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Md. lawyers gain exposure through social media

As social media outlets like podcasts, QR codes, Google+ and Pinterest evolve, Maryland lawyers are looking for ways to use them as marketing devices.

The key, said Bethesda solo attorney Bradley S. Shear, is to figure out which forms would be most effective for your practice. And even then, social media is still mostly about exposure, several lawyers said.

iPad

Patricia A. Ramudo, an associate at Kahn, Smith & Collins P.A., is seen in the reflection of an iPad showing the podcasts the firm posts on its website. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

“It comes down to where your customers are,” said Shear, who blogs about social media. “If your customers are not on Pinterest, then it may not be the best uses of resources. That’s why you have to say, ‘What is the best use of my resources?’”

Seen and heard

Some attorneys have turned to podcasts and radio recordings as a way to get their firm’s name in the public.

Jennifer Ellis, a law practice management consultant in Pennsylvania, said audio recordings can provide background about a lawyer or law firm’s area of expertise.

“I think taking a couple minutes and providing a little information is always a good idea,” said Ellis.

Although she prefers visual forms of outreach, audio is “very useful as long as you are providing something interesting to listen to. Keep it relatively short, for the most part,” she said.

Recording and editing the sound bites can be time-consuming, and to do it effectively, attorneys need to invest in producing a quality product, Shear said.

Ellis and Shear both stressed the importance of monitoring the content of the recordings.

“Lawyers have to really understand that they have to be careful with what they say and the way they say it,” Shear said. “I think some lawyers may not realize you have to be extra careful because you don’t know how something sounds in the digital world.”

Attorneys at Kahn, Smith & Collins P.A. in Baltimore have been recording podcasts in their office for about two years, said David Wright, an associate at the firm.

“The idea behind it is that, by and large, law firm [web] pages look the same,” Wright said. “Everyone knows the format; particularly lawyers know what other law firm pages look like. What we wanted to offer was a little more value, more information to get people started thinking about their legal needs.”

The podcasts cover topics like the Maryland Public Information Act or basic labor law. One of the most popular recordings reviewed the basics of what to do when getting a divorce.

The attorneys usually think about cases they are working on, then talk about the laws those cases deal with, Wright said.

“We try to keep it basic,” Wright said. “We have to back ourselves up and think about all the things we take for granted.”

Lawyers at the firm take turns recording the podcasts with a tech firm, which edits the half-hour sessions to 15-minute recordings and posts them on the firm’s website once a month.

Wright said while the podcasts have not generated any business, they have attracted interest.

“We put up the podcast and put up the transcript, and that sort of thing gets people listening,” Wright said. “I can’t tell you who and I can’t tell you why. Our ambition is to show what we do and show that we are engaged and accessible; and, to that extent, we think we have been quite successful.”

The firm does hope the recordings will attract clients one day, said Patricia Ramudo, an associate at the firm.

“At the end of the day, it’s the marketing tool,” Ramudo said. “We do hope that if they need help navigating through a workers’ comp case or a divorce case, that they ask us for assistance and hire us; but we also do want to give information and be helpful and this might be easier than looking through documents and doing that on their own.”

Paul A. Samakow, of The Law Offices of Paul A. Samakow P.C., which has offices in Maryland and Virginia, gives legal advice on a radio show once a week. He then puts the recordings on his website.

Samakow, who works mostly in auto accidents, wrongful death, workers’ compensation and personal injury, can be heard every Wednesday from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. on TWT Radio, The Washington Times’ radio station.

On the 15-minute segment, Samakow talks about a range of legal topics — cases in the news that have caught his attention, celebrity lawsuits or Supreme Court cases. He ends each broadcast with a legal tip of the day.

Samakow said he enjoys the radio show, but it has never resulted in any direct business.

“I like to go on because I can give a lot of expertise,” Samakow said. “If I am being honest, is it bringing business in? Probably not.”

He does, however, receive emails from all around the country as a result of the show. A few months ago, a veteran called him because his home had been foreclosed on while he was serving oversees. The veteran heard Samakow’s show and wanted some guidance. However, the caller didn’t retain Samakow as an attorney, he said.

“Did I make any money off of the call?” Samakow said. “No. Did I have a nice evening helping some poor soul who fights for our country? Yeah.”

And while he has not gained any clients, the audio recordings have certainly given him exposure, he said. Since doing them, he has been invited to speak at events, from which he could make between $5,000 and $20,000, he said.

“The expectation is if it helps one person, I will feel good,” Samakow said. “I have the belief that I have done something for the better and the greater good and that gives me enjoyment, even if I am not getting financial gain.”

Cracking the code

Stanley H. Block, a solo attorney in Baltimore, has used QR codes in his print ads for the last year, because, he said, “Why not?”

QR codes are black and white barcode, usually shaped like a square. People can take a picture of the code with their smartphones, which will then take them to a specific website.

“I don’t think anyone else does it,” Block said. “Maybe because they don’t want to or who knows. It’s the wave of the future. People want to know about you in a nutshell, and the QR code tells them.”

Baltimore solo practitioner John Cord, who also writes for The Daily Record’s Generation J.D. blog, called QR codes “one of those fun little devices” for attorneys who do a lot of print advertising, such as in newspapers or in trade show flyers. However, the codes are “not the be-all, end-all of marketing” for those who have a strong website.

“It’s just kind of a cool little feature,” he said. “But most people can type in a web address to get to your web page.”

Ellis said the best way for lawyers to utilize QR codes is to put them on their print advertisements and business cards.

“It puts it in a place that is easy for people to access a website or call a number on a smartphone,” Ellis said.

The tools are one way to bridge the gap between more old-fashioned ways of marketing in print to newer-age online advertising, Ellis said.

“They are kind of an interesting technology,” Ellis said. “They have been around a while now. I don’t know if we are seeing a resurgence. I think for a while people kind of forgot about them, but I think they are a wise way to get potential clients from the print medium to the online medium.”

While many lawyers ask her about QR codes, Ellis said, she has not seen many attorneys using them.

Cord, for example, said he will consider putting QR codes on his next batch of business cards — but that might not be for a while.

“You order those things in such massive bulk,” Cord said of his current stash of cards.

Block said he thought many of the attorneys advertising in print were older lawyers and less likely to be using newer technology like QR codes.

“They don’t have websites; that’s why they don’t do it,” Block said. “I have a website, and so that’s why it’s on there.”

The other problem is, consumers largely do not know how to use the codes, Shear said.

“Will they become accessible down the road?” Shear said. “Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on whether or not consumers feel they are useful. That’s I think a big problem. If people don’t want to use it, they won’t use it.”

The other Facebook

Google’s answer to Facebook, Google+ is a “crucial” tool for law firms, Ellis said.

The social network’s local page allows users to search for businesses in their area. And businesses like law firms with pages on Google+ will come up early in the searches and have a better chance of attracting clients, she said.

The firm and its individual attorneys should all have their own pages, even if the lawyers do not actively post on theirs, Ellis said. The lawyers should fill their pages out with all their contact information and bio, a few pictures and a link back to the firm’s website at least.

“You should have it, but post on it as you do on Facebook and LinkedIn,” Ellis said. “Even if you are not posting on it, still have it.”

Shear cautioned attorneys to pay attention to privacy issues when using Google+, since Google has so many Internet platforms, which may be able to access the information on the account. In fact, he actually deleted a portion of information from his Google+ account.

“I think a lot of lawyers may not realize that they have to be careful, and they may not realize how their information is being used and how they are being tracked online,” Shear said.

Cord said he is yet to be sold on Google+, opting instead to use Facebook as the center of his social network for marketing.

“Never has anyone asked me if I am on Google+,” Cord said. Google+ “doesn’t seem to be that big of a thing yet,” he added.

“Facebook is light years beyond Google+ in terms of usage,” he said. “Facebook is not just for kids anymore. A lot of adults are using it.”

Pinning it down

Pinterest is perhaps the most uncharted marketing tool for lawyers, Ellis said.

The website, which allows users to post pictures and videos they like to their boards, is a medium Ellis said she herself is still figuring out.

“It’s experimental for lawyers right now, but if you have robust social media presence anyway, it certainly cannot hurt to use Pinterest,” Ellis said.

Shear said he has a Pinterest account but rarely uses it. He said the main problem with the website is copyright issues when users are “pinning” other people’s pictures and content onto their own pages.

Used correctly, he said, lawyers could “pin” pictures of themselves going to court or working in their office; but should make sure they have permission to use anything beyond that.

“It’s a fantastic platform,” Shear said. “Just like anything else, you may not think of the legal ramifications or consequences.”

Ellis said the best way for attorneys to use Pinterest would be to write a blog on their website and use a compelling picture with the blog post. They can then “pin” the picture to their Pinterest board with a link to the picture and a link to the blog post.

“Pinterest is kind of an uncertainty in terms of how useful it is for lawyers right now,” Ellis said. “It certainly is there, but if there is an order, it’s not on top.”

Shear said ultimately attorneys need to think about which social media outlets will live on into the future. He said he once had a MySpace account, but as that platform decreased in popularity, he deleted it. He said if lawyers believe these a lesser-used medium will have longevity, they should invest in it.

“If you think down the road Pinterest might be a good platform for marketing, it is something you to really have to build out,” he said.