Online marketing for lawyers: Yikes! (or Yelp!)

Just when you thought it was safe to rest on your social media laurels, along comes a post that throws you for a loop. I take my online marketing presence seriously. My LinkedIn profile is chock full of information; the Avvo profile is 85% complete; and my Twitter handle is respectable, if a bit lighter on followers than I would like (shameless plug – follow me @mtvocci).

I worked on my online presence and branding, because, based on my own anecdotal experience, I knew that people searching for services went to the Internet to research and evaluate (read: Google) their options. Therefore, I had some understanding that thorough and professional branding online was important. I have spent many an hour working on my profiles. I thought I had covered most of the waterfront but I was wrong, almost startlingly so.

The realm of lawyer directories is so large that it could drive one to distraction to try to keep up. The National Trial Lawyers posted a piece this week that ranked the top five directories for gathering high-value web traffic for personal injury lawyers. According to article, of the several cities that were studied, none of which were in Maryland, the following websites generated the highest traffic volumes:

  1. FindLaw.com
  2. Avvo.com
  3. Yelp.com
  4. Lawyers.com
  5. Thumbtack.com

So, this is a mix of more traditional directories – FindLaw.com is a Thomson Reuters site and Lawyers.com is a Martindale-Hubbell service – while Yelp, Avvo and Thumbtack are newer to the advertising world. Indeed, it was Yelp and Thumbtack that I was particularly surprised to see on the list. My own user experience with Yelp has been confined to reviewing restaurant options.

In my personal online marketing plan, I had completely ignored the fact that Yelp had reviews for professional services. Yet, in researching this post, I noted that a number of law firms were listed  and reviewed in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas (for example, Scott MacMullan Law LLC, which is managed by fellow my Generation J.D. blogger and VIP and all-around good guy). Many of the firms had positive reviews. Yet, for some, clients with a less-than-favorable view of the services rendered had given a dreaded one-star anti-recommendation. This is a reminder of the wild live-by-the-web/die-by-the-web nature of Internet marketing.

Thumbtack.com, which I entirely was unaware of, apparently works on a system in which you pay for credits that are spent when you provide a quote to a prospective client, who has requested information from a service provider in a given area. This model is sure to make those who complain of the commoditization of legal services groan. It also seems like it may be a good idea for the Maryland State Bar Association’s Ethics Committee to weigh in (again) on the line between impermissible payments for recommendations or fee-sharing arrangements and paying for advertising costs, which is acceptable.

Who wants to make a request for an opinion? For those interested, the Ethics Committee did approve of “Daily Deal” advertising in 2012, (see Ethics Docket 2012-07), which is available to members at www.msba.org.

So, follow me online and look out for a Yelp profile soon. I would love to hear from members of the Maryland Bar as to which online services are providing them with the highest value web traffic.

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