Reputation, Referrals & the Web

Many of our new clients should come from referrals. This is not new. What is new is the way we are able to engage with referral sources.

Somewhere along the way, many lawyers picked up this idea that the web is somehow a replacement for traditional notions of client development. Interestingly, other have concluded that the internet is largely a waste of time and doesn’t really have any role in client development at all. Both views are rather silly.

Pitting reputation and relationships against the web is just dumb.

Whether you know it or like it, people will look you up online. Even people you know in the real world.

It’s a fact of digital life.

If you don’t build a reputation for competence, professionalism and service, the web will eventually reflect that too.

It all works together.

Engage with Current and Former Clients Online

To me, one of the biggest mistakes plaintiffs’ lawyers make is to think of their relationships with clients as limited to the period in which they provide their legal services. In other words, when the case is over, the relationship stops.

I’m going to paint with some pretty broad strokes here. Hopefully, it’s obvious to you that there are situations in which maintaining a relationship and engaging with both former and current clients online is a bad idea.

Use your head. But don’t be paralyzed by your professional obligations.

Assuming there aren’t reasons to avoid contact with clients online, engage with them! Sounds pretty simple.

However, by engage, I don’t mean advertise. A better word might be socialize. But really, engage is better.

First, decide where the best place(s) is to connect. Is it Facebook? Is it LinkedIn?

The nature of your relationship should play a role in informing where and how you connect with clients.

Client relationships that have been solidified over time lend themselves to more personal connecting and sharing online.

Interestingly, the web provides a medium that works really well for maintaining professional relationships between plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients beyond merely the period of representation.

It provides an efficient way to stay in touch over time. And sometimes, staying in touch is the most important part of maintaining a relationship with a client that transitions into a referral.

Engage with Colleagues Online

This one has always seemed like a no-brainer. The web is particularly useful for maintaining relationships with colleagues. This is especially true if your professional network extends over large geographical distances.

Lawyers are a busy bunch. It’s difficult to make time for a lunch, let alone, a networking event or trip.

Fortunately, you can stay in contact with key professional contacts on an almost daily basis with online social networks. And you can do it in only minutes a day from your smartphone.

This is powerful stuff.

Engage with Related Communities Online

This one might not be as obvious to you.

Let’s suppose that your target client audience is injury victims. What other groups to these folks touch?

Groups and organizations for people dealing with similar injuries?

Whether it’s volunteering, sponsoring or serving in another capacity, being involved in the same communities as your clients and potential clients is a tried and true method for gaining referrals. And many of these communities will have their own web presences.

That might mean online forums, blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, etc.

And just like you participate in these communities in the real world, it can be worthwhile to stay engaged online too.

Don’t get tunnel vision with your online activities. Too many plaintiffs’ lawyers hyper-focus on the narrow view of trying to connect with clients.

Online engagement is much more than merely direct response marketing.

Personal Injury Marketing, Search & Speed

If part of your client development strategy includes targeting specific types of injury victims (think mass torts, pharma, products), you have to be able to move fast.

Lawyers will sometimes contact me with a “big idea” about a new type of mass tort / injury class action audience to which they want to market.

Conceptually, this thinking can be sound. Obviously, it’s a bit speculative as to the viability of pursuing these types of claims. Nonetheless, when they “hit” they may be especially lucrative.

It should also be obvious that the mass tort legal web marketing landscape is particularly competitive. Especially, in well-established keyword marketplaces. However, if you can be first and fast, you may be able to stay ahead of the competition.

The traditional wisdom is that SEO campaigns are long-term. Most of the time, this is true. It can take a relatively long time to go from no visitors to new clients from organic search in competitive, mature keyword marketplaces. However, if you can build web presence in an emerging keyword marketplace, you might be able to beat everyone else to the punch.

If you like the sound of this approach, you’re going to need the ability to launch sites quickly. In fact, you probably need to turn new sites around the same day that you learn of a new potentially dangerous drug, product, etc.

Further, these sites can’t be light. In other words, you need to be able to generate a variety of useful pages as the news about the target emerges. You need to think of your new site like a journalist covering a story on the ground does in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.

Admittedly, this can be exceptionally difficult and require a lot in terms of time and money. Who is launching the sites? Who is writing the content? Who is editing it? A lot of the same problems news agencies face in an environment where speed is given precedence over quality.

Of course, the better your site’s content, the more likely it is to be shared, liked, linked to, and therefore, rank in search engines.

If it’s unrealistic for you to move at that pace, you should consider paid search advertising (SEM, PPC, AdWords, etc).

You should be able to launch paid search campaigns and landing pages much, much faster than you can build useful content sites on a topic.

Typically, I recommend that you investigate an area of new claims with paid search advertising first. Then, as you’ve vetted that the claims are viable, and likely more numerous, you can supplement with an organic strategy.

This is one of the ways that paid search marketing and search engine optimization complement one another.

If you’re going to do this yourself, your process probably needs to look something like this:

  • Use Google Alerts or Mention to stay notified when target drugs / products make news.
  • Register for a more robust web host (we like WPEngine) that will allow you to launch many sites very quickly.
  • Have a few responsive WordPress themes from which to choose. You might register for a developer account with somewhere like Themify.
  • Register for a phone call tracking solution that uses dynamic phone insertion (we like Ifbyphone and Call Rail).
  • Check out Unbounce for landing page creation and Optimizely for testing.
  • You should also probably sign-up for Fotolia or another place you can get a lot of stock imagery.
  • You should also have a CRM solution in place to track open files by source (at a minimum). Salesforce and Avvo Ignite are good options.

Remember that speed is the key issue. Much of your success will hinge upon discovering a new opportunity to launching marketable web assets and paid search campaigns. If you can’t be fast, you’ll likely loose to faster competitors.

This is certainly not an approach for all (if not most) plaintiffs’ lawyers. As you might imagine, there are many very well-resourced firms playing in this sandbox. However, if you’re good at spotting new claim opportunities and can react very quickly to launching new campaigns, this might be a very effective approach for you.

Whatever approach you take, don’t forget that, to be successful, you have to understand how people search and find lawyers like you.

How Do Injury Victims Search?

Part of our journey to understand how they look for lawyers like you, involves thinking about how injury victims (your potential clients) use search engines.

Before we dive into specific search queries, let’s spend a brief moment putting ourselves in the shoes of the injured.

Who are these folks? What are they worried about?

As we’ve previously discussed, anyone can get hurt. However, some folks may be more likely to get hurt than others. The most obvious examples include people who live and work under relatively dangerous circumstances. Despite great improvements to work conditions, some jobs are still rather dangerous. It stands to reason that people working these are seriously injured more than people with less dangerous jobs.

Generally speaking, when you’ve identified such a job, there will be identifiable demographic information that flows from the employment.

Furthermore, people who are seriously injured tend to face similar concerns. Things like lost wages and medical bills. Ultimately, they tend to be concerned with their health (hopefully a road to recovery) and caring for their families.

Obviously, I’m just really scratching the surface here. But it’s useful to get into this mindset when beginning to think about how these folks might perform searches.

Head Terms

At one end of the search query spectrum, we have head terms. As defined by WordStream:

A head term or head keyword, in contrast to a long-tail keyword, is a popular keyword with high search volume. Head terms are generally competitive to rank for in search results.

In our context, one popular head term would be [lawyer]. If you’re wondering why I put brackets around lawyer, it’s to indicate exact match.

The search query [lawyer] has very high search volume. According to the Google Keyword Planner tool, The average number of times people have searched for the exact keyword [lawyer] in the United States in a single month is: 60,500.

As you might suspect, the competition for the query [lawyer] is very high. In fact, Google returns about 273,000,000 results for this query. Which means a page is competing with around that many other pages for visibility with a Google search engine result page (SERP).

Head terms are the types of keywords that everyone considers. This is part of the reason that they are also so competitive. In fact, my guess is that most of you who read this think of keyword research with a heavy head term bias. In other words, you conclude that most of your potential clients search in a pattern something like this:

[city] + [personal injury] + [lawyer]

And many most certainly do. However, in aggregate, the other end of the spectrum holds much more opportunity.

At the other end of the search query spectrum, we have long-tail keywords. As defined by WordStream:

Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific keyword phrases that visitors are more likely to use when they’re closer to a point-of-purchase. They’re a little bit counter-intuitive, at first, but they can be hugely valuable if you know how to use them.

In our context, the long-tail might include a search like:

[How do I file a claim for lost wages in Illinois?]

Unfortunately, searches like this won’t even show up in Google’s Keyword Planner tool so it’s difficult to assess search volume for terms like this. In terms of competition, Google returns around 2,370,000 results for the example query. That’s only around .8% as many pages competing as the head term [lawyer].

Typically, when I explain long-tail keyword searches to lawyers, I am met with considerable skepticism. “No one searches like that,” is a common response.

But they’re just wrong. There’s really no other way to put it.

Many people use search engines to perform research. While users are becoming a bit more sophisticated, most still search in very basic ways. This includes typing full questions, even paragraphs (sometimes including punctuation) right into the engine.

Hopefully it’s obvious that these are only some of the most basic examples. The point here is that your target audience of injury survivors isn’t limited to those who merely search for those highly competitive head terms.

Again, the point here is to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand the types of questions they have to which they might turn to search engines for answers.

Further, keep in mind that it’s very unlikely that most of your potential clients will search the way that you, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, would.

First, you probably know a lot of lawyers and would never even consider turning to the internet to research a lawyer. Second, you have acquired knowledge and language that has vastly influenced your perspective.

Even the way that you hypothesize about the way that people use search engines has been shaped by your education and experience.

Therefore, it’s fantastically difficult for you to accurately imagine how your target audience uses search. Combine that with the fact that around 15% of the questions people ask of Google every day are questions the search engine has never seen before. Whoa.

This is one of the reasons that audience research is so imperative before launching into a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. If you don’t understand who your audience is, what issues they are facing and how they use search engines, you are likely to miss out on a lot of targeted traffic. Further, even if you are able to earn traffic, without audience research, it’s likely that traffic won’t have meaning to your practice. In other words, you’ll attract visitors who aren’t potential clients.

How Do “They” Look for Lawyers Like You?

This is one of the fundamental questions that we’ll work to answer at this site.

Who are the people you want to attract to your practice as clients? What is the process they use to find lawyers like you?

Until we understand the answers to these questions, anything you do to try to market to your audience is really nothing more than guessing. In fact, this is why so much legal marketing fails.

One of the greatest challenges in marketing a plaintiffs’ law practice is that your audience of potential clients can be very large with seemingly no pattern of demographic information. In other words, the public at large.

However, if you have been successful in regularly earning new clients, I bet that, upon examination, you would recognize some patterns.

At a very simplistic level, you would probably recommend patterns relating to location. If your practice relies heavily on local word of mouth referrals, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of your clients reside in a local area.

This is some of the very basic demographic information that is of particular value in marketing a law firm.

Likewise, if you were to look, you’d probably notice some patterns relating to your clients’ psychographics. For example, you will probably recognize interest and lifestyle patterns among your existing client base.

This information is also extremely powerful in understanding how to best communicate to your target audience and how they are most likely to search for, research and ultimately hire a lawyer.

The purpose of this post isn’t to answer all of these questions. It would be futile to try to answer them in a single post. Instead, my purpose is to get you thinking about your audience in this way and stress the importance of performing audience research before launching head-first into ill-advised marketing campaigns.

As you should know, a lawyer’s reputation and relationships are her most valuable assets. Anything that is done to develop new business should be executed with one’s reputation at the forefront. It takes a lot of work to develop a reputation for excellence and very little to harm it.

Much of the discussion here will involve technology. It should be obvious that technology has greatly impacted the way we communicate. This is particularly true in the areas of web technologies including search engines and social networks.

However, as we discuss these topics, I will always try to remind you that these are not a substitute for what’s really at the heart of client development: reputation and relationships.

Nonetheless, it’s silly to ignore the impact that the internet has had on the ways people communicate.

Too many lawyers seem to pit historical notions of client development against technology. They tend to paint with very broad brushstrokes often concluding that the web is largely comprised of people who aren’t likely to turn into clients.

Hopefully, as plaintiffs’ lawyer, you understand that most people who think they might need a lawyer won’t have a case worth pursuing. However, it’s foolish to conclude that everyone online fits this category.

Fortunately, the web provides a variety of ways to to target those who are more likely to have a claim worth pursuing and efficiently filtering out those who do not.

Unfortunately, too many lawyers don’t accept this basic premise and conclude that “the web in general” doesn’t work for client development.

But you really don’t need to be a web marketing expert to recognize how the world has changed. Even people who are referred to you by people that know and trust you are likely to look you up online. Therefore, even the most traditional forms of word of mouth have been forever changed by search engines and the internet.

Whether potential clients are able to easily find information about you online, that validates your reputation, can be the difference in whether they even bother to contact you.


If you end up regularly visiting this site, you’ll likely see me haul out the image above from time to time. I think it it’s extremely effective in illustrating a cycle of client development.

Many of your new clients will find you because other people referred them to you. This makes impressing people critically important and impressing your clients paramount.

If you regularly impress people, you will earn meaningful attention. It really is that simple. The hard part, of course, is regularly impressing people. Competent service is really just table stakes. Making sure that your clients perceive that you’re delivering them impressive service is very challenging for most lawyers.

Once you’re regularly impressing people and earning meaningful attention, you can focus your efforts on motivating them to take action. This is where much of the “marketing work” takes place. You see, it’s often not enough to merely “do great work.” You have to give people a reason why they ought to consider you. Why you are different from the countless other lawyers out there. What is it that you do better than everyone else? What makes you special?

This is the area that most lawyers focus on. It’s the reason for so much crappy law firm marketing too. One of the biggest problems is that lawyers tend to misunderstand what their potential clients really care about.

However, those lawyers who truly understand their audience, are able to deliver precisely what they’re potential clients need at the critical time that they’re considering consulting with them.

When this happens, those lawyers earn new clients. And the cycle repeats.

I hope you find this site useful. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or ideas.