Do You Lock The Doors?

Transparency In Legal Marketing

Got off the phone yesterday afternoon with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee here in New York.  He was unhappy with my actions.

For the life of me, I have no idea why.

Allow me to share:  About two weeks ago I asked my assistant to contact every Chapter 7 trustee in New York to obtain from them a list of documents they require to be produced in every Chapter 7 case.  Given the fact that some trustees have nuanced lists and deviate from one another, this was a pretty good idea.  The goal was to provide a separate section of one of my blogs and allow lawyers and consumers to search it as needed.

A complete list would reduce the number of confused calls to trustee offices, increase the efficiency of document delivery to trustees in Chapter 7 cases, and overall make the process smoother.  Win-win, as they say.

This particular Chapter 7 trustee’s office provided the information and I posted it on my site. He called me this afternoon and advised that he didn’t want the information on my site, and didn’t want it disseminated to the public.  He asked that I remove the content from my site, and I intend to do so in the next day or so.

He locked the doors.

What’s the upshot?  This trustee will continue to get haphazard documents from consumer debtors and their lawyers.  His frustration level will remain high as his office staff keeps chasing people down for information.  His files will be less organized than would otherwise be the case, with papers coming in dribs and drabs.

Consumer debtors will remain inefficient.  Their lawyers will remain harried.  And he will lose time and money, all in the name of locking the doors.

This interchange made me think about the true cost/benefit analysis of transparency in legal marketing, especially in marketing a bankruptcy practice or consumer protection practice.  By locking the doors to our audience, by holding information close to the vest, we think we’re doing the world some sort of favor.  If we don’t give out all the information, our prospective clients can’t hurt themselves by mucking up a case pro se.

We tell prospective clients what documents we need, but not why – and we get bent out of shape when they don’t comply with our requests.  We tell them to be at an appointment, but give no real reason aside from, “because I said so.”  And we all know how well that works with parents and children.

How can we increase our office efficiency and legal marketing effectiveness by being more transparent?

When we open the doors wide to clients and prospective clients, we not only provide more information.  We start to explain the thinking underneath the information, and educate the world about the why in addition to the what, where, when, why and how.  By removing the uncertainty in the process, we create safety.  Oh, says the recipient of the information, I understand now.  I need to provide 6 months worth of paystubs so the lawyer can calculate my current monthly income.  That’s the only way we can know for sure if I qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The unknown becomes known.  The flow of information increases.  We no longer need to chase clients around for documents, we no longer beg for compliance.  They are more likely to realize that our interests are aligned and, therefore, to rebel less frequently.

What do you think?  Do you think unlocking the doors in your practice is a good idea?  Share your thoughts below.

Photo courtesy of spodzone.

Where Do Your Best Visitors Come From?

Marketing A Law Firm Online Requires The Right Traffic

When we start marketing our law firm, we often want to get to the top of the Google search engine results page. But is that the smart move?

Google is the brass ring when it comes to search engines. Get to number one and you’re guaranteed a flood of visitors to your site.

The problem is that Google isn’t going to give you the best bang for your buck.

To explain, let me ask you a simple question: Would you rather have 10 new consultation appointments and get one new client out of it, or would you rather have 3 new consultation appointments and get one new client out of it?

Unless you’ve got serious math problems, you probably want the latter – 3 new appointments, 1 new client. Why waste your time with the other 7 people would don’t have much use for you anyway?

In fact, Google doesn’t give you the best visitors. I didn’t believe this until I happened across this post at Search Engine Watch. In the article, the author discusses how Google may give more traffic overall, but it isn’t the right traffic. Visitors from Google stick around less, read fewer pages on his site, and generally have a lower level of engagement.

The best traffic on his site came from forums in which he is a participant, social media sites such as Twitter, and other blogs. Google was way down in his list.

Interested, I took a peek at the stats on my sites – including some with extremely high traffic levels. If the theory was correct, it would bear out over all of my sites to one extent or another.

If Your Online Legal Marketing Relies Solely On Traffic From Search Engines, You’re Missing The Boat

My findings were clear, and truthful across the board. Large sites and small reflected the exact same information. The traffic I get from search engines (Google. Bing, Yahoo, Ask, etc.) yield visitors who stay less time, are less likely to contact me or opt into my mailing list, and view fewer pages than other sites.

The best sources of traffic? Facebook, Twitter, forums in which I actively participate, and other blogs. Hands down.

This makes sense if you take a step back.  People who find you on search engines have a specific question or problem, and come to you for an answer.  Once the answer is uncovered, they’re happy and off the site.  Some may stick around for more information, others to contact you or opt in – but for the most part, it’s game over.

The social media visitors (blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter and the like) are more likely to be people who have been exposed to you for awhile in one form or another.  Twitter and Facebook visitors are your followers, and have come to trust your judgment and opinions.  Blog visitors are readers of the referring site, and so when a recommendation is made in the form of an outbound link it carries a bit of trust as well.  And on forums, if you’re actively participating then people know you as well.

When these folks visit, they are more likely to become (or refer others to become) paying clients in the long-run.

For a good look into why social media traffic is so compelling, check out Adrian Dayton’s take on the matter.  You’ll also see my comment there, which says that, “They [social media clicks] are different clicks [from SEO or PPC clicks], neither better nor worse.”  I stand by that comment, and think it’s important o bear in mind that I am not saying to abandon the search engines.  Doing so would be commercially unwise.

What I am saying, however, is that by looking at social media and other sources for your traffic, you’ll begin the process of attracting some high-quality visitors to your site rather than simply looking to quantity.

Photo courtesy of TheTruthAbout…

Online Legal Marketing Begins With The Right Word

Online Legal Marketing Keyword Research

You’re about to launch your online legal marketing efforts – whether it’s a blog, a static website, or social media marketing strategy (ideally, it’s a combination of all three – but that’s another post for another day).  Where do you begin?  A domain name?  A hosting account?  Installing WordPress?  Hiring a web developer or a graphic designer to make your online home look all swanky?

Nope.  You begin with a word.  The right word.  Actually, the right words.

And I’m not talking about your pearls of wisdom, either.  I’m talking about your keyword terms, those words and terms that you want to rank for on the search engines.  Pick the right words and you’re well on your way to online legal marketing success.  Choose the wrong ones and you’re dead in the water, floating on page 48 of the search engine results page.

Bear in mind that you need not – indeed, should not – pick only one word to work with.  Pick 10, 20 even 50 words and phrases at the start; once you conquer them, you can move onto others.

If you’re marketing a bankruptcy law practice and are located in Cleveland, you may want to focus on “Cleveland bankruptcy lawyer,” or “Cleveland bankruptcy attorney.”  Depending on the traffic those terms get, and the competition on the search engines, these may be good or bad ideas as a place to begin.

Choosing Keywords For Your Online Legal Marketing Efforts

First, you want to play word association with yourself, doing everything you can to brainstorm.  Think about the words people use when they talk to you.  Ask clients if they searched online for a lawyer and, if so, what they plugged into the search engine.

Next, you’ll need to do some legwork to determine the relative volume of searches done for each search tool.  There are a number of free keyword search tools online.  In no particular order, some of them are:

  1. Wordtracker: Free Keyword Suggestion Tool
  2. SEO Book: Keyword Suggestion Tool
  3. Keyword Discovery: Free Search Term Suggestion Tool
  4. Google Search-based Keyword Tool
  5. Google AdWords Keyword Tool
  6. Google Insights for Search
  7. Google Trends

Third, you’ll want to hand-pick some of the keyword search terms on which to focus your efforts. If you’ve got a relatively new site or are redeveloping an existing site from the ground up (i.e., a gut renovation) then you probably want to start off with the long tail keywords. These are keywords that don’t get a ton of traffic individually but get a good amount in the aggregate. By focusing on the long tail, you can pick up some traffic without as much competition.

Once you’ve chosen a bucket of keywords and search terms, you’ll be able to begin your online legal marketing efforts with gusto.  Of course, this is just the first step to climbing the search engine results page.  But without this critical first step, you’ll never get the success you seek.

Photo courtesy of Feuillu.

Unbundled Legal Services – A Primer

Unbundled Legal Services - Like A Relay Race

One of the major themes here at The Untethered Lawyer is the notion of unbundled legal services, and how a virtual law firm can use this as a business model while delivering excellent service to clients. It’s a concept I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade or so, and the time is finally right for unbundled legal services to take a place at the table.

But to many, unbundled legal services is a foreign concept. So in this article I will try my best to explain unbundled legal services if for no other reason than to lay the groundwork for some of our discussions on the topic.

What Are Unbundled Legal Services?

Unbundled legal services has also been called “discrete task representation.” The lawyer provides legal services to a client, but those services are less than the full range of what would be provided in a typical lawyer-client relationship.

For example, a client needs me to write a letter to a creditor demanding that they stop contacting the client at work. I agree to do so for a fixed fee, but don’t undertake to represent the client in any lawsuit for harassment that may arise later on.

Or perhaps a consumer who lives far away needs to file for bankruptcy. I’m unable to travel to the meeting of creditors and confirmation hearing without charging a fee that is out of the client’s financial ability, but the client wants my help nonetheless. I may prepare the petition, schedules, Statement of Financial Affairs and Plan … but not file the case on behalf of the client or otherwise represent the client in court.

See? It’s as if there is a box called “full representation.” The client and I decide what to take out of the box, and what to keep in the box. Whatever remains in the box is the scope of my representation.

How Do Unbundled Legal Services Differ From Self-Help And Pure Pro Se Representation?

When you’ve got someone who buys a book or gets someone to fill out some forms … that’s a pure pro se party. They’re working without a net, do or die. All the knowledge they have is a product of their own information-gathering, and there’s been no licensed attorney helping them whatsoever.

In other words, they know just enough to be dangerous. Maybe they can get through the system in one piece, maybe not. Lawyering ain’t rocket science, but neither is rocket science … to the rocket scientists, that is.

With unbundled legal services, the person goes to a lawyer. The lawyer reviews the situation, explains the options to the non-lawyer, and together they make a decision on what the lawyer will handle and what the consumer will handle on their own. The lawyer does his or her thing (usually, gathering information, drafting documents, giving guidance on the remainder of the process) and the consumer picks up the ball and runs with it.

In other words, they work together to figure out who’s going to do what. The lawyer prepares the consumer for his or her part of the job, and the consumer does the job with that guidance as a foundation for action.

It’s like a relay race, where each person does his or her part in getting to the finish line.

Do you unbundle?  Drop me a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Photo courtesy of matsugoro.

Online Legal Marketing – 6 Ways To Reduce Your Bounce Rate

Legal Marketing And Website Bounce Rate

You’ve committed to marketing your law firm online. Your bankruptcy website is getting 10, 20, 50, 100 or more unique visitors each day, which is pretty good.  After all, the site hasn’t been touched in months (if not years) and it doesn’t cost much to keep it online.  Even if you’re a regular legal blogger, it still doesn’t take anything but elbow grease and some time to maintain your site.

Any clients who come to you from your online legal marketing efforts are freebies, so you’re not paying much attention to the disparity between visitors and clients.

Let’s step back for a moment and say you’re getting 25 unique visitors per day.  Not a ton, but still 750 people each month.

Out of those visitors, you’re getting 20 new clients from your online marketing efforts.  If you’re charging $1,000 for an average case, that’s $20,000 a month.  Cool, right?

Not so much.  How about all those people to surf to your website and leave, vanishing into the ether?

They’re gone, off to another lawyer.  Worse yet, they’re off to no other lawyer.

Maybe people are getting to your website and realizing that there’s no compelling reason to stick around.  Maybe they read a bunch of pages and then go elsewhere.  How do you know?

The key is to studying your website’s bounce rate.  To my mind, it’s a critical aspect of the data you should be looking at closely.

What Is The Bounce Rate?

Avinash Kaushik, the Google employee who lives website analytics, defines bounce rate as, “I came, I puked, I left.”  More technically, he defines bounce rate as, “single page view visits divided by entry pages.”  Avinash goes into a bit more detail on the Official Google Blog.

In other words, the percent of people who land on your site, do absolutely nothing whatsoever, and then close the window and head for somewhere else.

I call it the failure rate.  Someone came to my website, took one look at what I was talking about, and decided that is had absolutely ZERO value.

Bounce Rate For Law Firm Websites

The Intersection Of Bounce Rate And Online Legal Marketing

When you’re marketing your law practice online, you are looking to create a connection with your audience.  Whether it’s a blog or a static website, you understand (at some level) that it’s tough to make any lasting positive impression on someone if they stick around for only a few seconds.  therefore, one of your goals is to give people a reason to stick around as long as possible.

What’s A Good Bounce Rate?

The short answer is, “I have no clue.”  Do you want people to come to your site and surf for a bunch of information?  Do you want them to land on the site, get your phone number and call you?  Do you want them to get lost in your site, delving deeper and deeper?  Or do you want them to log on, find your Facebook page, and then go there to become a fan?

Your ideal bounce rate will depend based on your motives.  But suffice to say, if you’ve got a 60% bounce rate then you’re definitely not engaging your visitors.  It probably explains why you’re getting 20 visits per day and only 1 phone call from a new client.

6 Ways To Improve The Bounce Rate On Your Law Firm Website

  1. Know What You’re Dealing With.  Figure out the bounce rate per referring site and keyword search term.  You will find that some sites give you good traffic (i.e., traffic with a low bounce rate) and others not so much.  In addition, you’ll find that some search terms result in a high bounce rate.  This means that your content may be optimized for the search engines (i.e., people see your site when they search for a specific term) but not for visitors (i.e., once they get to your site they realize they’ve been short-changed).
  2. Next, concentrate on getting more referrals from the good sources.  Maybe people who come to your site from Facebook stick around whereas people who visit from Twitter bounce out a lot.  Send more of your links to Facebook and take the time to test what other types of tweets might encourage more people to visit and stick around happily.
  3. Spruce Up Your Site’s Navigation.  If people can’t figure out how to navigate around your site, they’re going to leave fast.
  4. Update Your Website Content.  If I come to your site today and see the same stuff I saw yesterday, I’m not going to have a reason to stick around.
  5. Create More Internal Links.  Internal links are hotlinks on a page that go to other pages on your site.  When you create internal links it encourages visitors to move from one page to another more easily.  A good thing to do is create a link from legal terms to pages with definitions (in other words, link the word “discharge” to another page that has a definition for that term).  It’s good for users to get clarification when they don’t understand something.
  6. Use Visual Cues To Draw In Visitors.  Eye-catching pictures and video content encourages people to stick around for awhile longer.

Your law firm website’s bounce rate is important, and tells a lot about what appeals to your website visitors.  Work on reducing your bounce rate and you’ll find that your site’s effectiveness rises exponentially.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Steele and p@r@noid.