The Digital Edge

The Internet’s Role in Client Development

How do people find lawyers these days? Although many attorneys believe they are discovered through a Google or Bing search, legal service consumers are actually still taking recommendations from people they know and trust. But technology has added a multitude of new ways that people perform research and journey to find lawyers. Potential clients will likely search for the lawyer or law firm’s website, Yelp or Avvo reviews, social media, and blogs before picking up the phone. So what should we, as lawyers, do to improve our online presence for more effective client development?

In this episode of The Digital Edge, Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway interview Gyi Tsakalakis, founder of the online legal marketing agency Attorney Sync, about the internet’s role in client development, the mistakes most lawyers make, and the “magic” of online legal marketing strategies.

Topics include:

  • The role of Google, Facebook, and Avvo in vetting legal service providers.
  • Providing valuable content versus blatant advertising
  • Understanding your audience and catering your marketing
  • Being authentic, direct, and transparent
  • Learning to use the technology properly
  • What to look for in a marketing agency
  • Properly defining your advertising goals for success
  • Utilizing current and past charity events participation.

Gyi Tsakalakis helps lawyers earn meaningful attention online. As a recovering attorney, he’s aware of the unique considerations related to ethically and effectively marketing a law practice. He founded Attorney Sync, an online legal marketing agency, to help lawyers develop web presences that attract clients. He also currently serves as vice-chair on the ABA Law Practice Division: Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Website Committee and regularly speaks about online marketing, most recently at the Clio Cloud Conference.

Special thanks to our sponsors, ServeNow and CloudMask.

View transcript

Advertiser: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway. Your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 94th edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises.

 

Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance program. Today, our topic is the web’s role in how lawyers get found.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors. CloudMask offers cost-effective and efficient data encryption for law firms. Whether large or small, in Google Apps, Office 365 and other Cloud solutions. Sign up now for your 60 day free account at CloudMask.com. We also thank Serve-Now, a nationwide network of trusted, prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit ServeNow.com to learn more.

 

Jim Calloway: We are happy to welcome as our guest, Gyi Tsakalakis. Gyi helps lawyers earn meaningful attention online because that’s where their clients are looking. As a recovering attorney, he’s aware of the unique considerations related to ethically and effectively marketing a law practice. He founded Attorney Sync, an online legal marketing agency, to help lawyers develop web presence that attract clients. He currently serves as vice-chair on the ABA Law Practice Division: Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Website Committee, is a contributor at Lawyerist, and regularly speaks about online marketing, most recently at the Clio’s Cloud Conference. Thanks for joining us, Gyi.

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, Jim and Sharon, thank you so much for having me. It’s absolutely my pleasure to be here with you today.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: Well that’s a lot of enthusiasm, thank you! Gyi, I think the magic question that all the lawyers are asking is how do people hire lawyers today?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: So here’s the big secret that is probably good to come as no surprise, and that is people still hire lawyers in 2015 much in the same way they always have, and that is turning to people they know they can trust. But – and here’s the big, “but,”- the ways that people turn to people that they know they can trust has changed and technology’s really added a multitude of new ways that people start performing research and their journey to actually find a lawyer when they need one.

 

Jim Calloway: More generally speaking, what role does the internet play in client development?  

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: That’s the big change. The internet and web-based communication technologies have now allowed people, legal services, consumers, to go out into the world and ask questions of Google and look for friends and people they know on social media. They subscribe and download information from various websites. And so the path of the way that people interact with the people in their lives they know they can trust, they do that through internet technologies, they do that through web-based communications. So now they have – as people have said – the power is in the legal services consumer’s hands now, and that is the major role that I believe the internet plays is it gives the legal services consumer access to a lot more information – for better and worse sometimes – and to a much wider audience to help them get their prospective attorney.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: You know, Gyi, when I lecture I often think of the lawyer sitting in front of me as very dinosaur-like because they think the internet is a waste of time and isn’t effective for client development. They’re stuck somewhere back in 1980 or earlier. Why do you think that’s true?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis:  I can certainly relate to that. I’ve had conversations with lawyers on a regular basis that express much similar sentiment. I think there’s a couple of different things going on. One is the devil’s really in the details, so how do we use these tools makes a big difference, and I think we’ll get a little bit more about that but you’re generally speaking. A lot of lawyers think of the internet, think of social media, think of blogging and other things that they can do online as a new opportunity to broadcast advertising messages. And then when they do that, the advertising message isn’t effective. They’re not inspiring and motivating people to contact them and to hire them. They conclude that it must be the internet or it must be social media that doesn’t really work for client development. And as I like to say, Twitter isn’t broken. It’s the way that we’re using it to a larger extent in terms of trying to broadcast marketing messaging. I can’t tell you how many times I see lawyer tweets that have free consultation phone number and dollar signs, and the people that are actually using Twitter and using these other internet communication platforms know that that’s the type of thing that people are trying to block. We’re really tired of being advertised to and we’re finding ways to filter out those messages. So if you’re broadcasting those kind of messages in a way that folks can filter them out, of course it’s not going to work for client development.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: Yeah, it’s really true. I think that blatant advertising, there’s some subtle advertising, but the best advertising I think is simply sharing information and communicating knowledge. Would you agree with that, Gyi?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: Oh, absolutely, and don’t misunderstand me. Advertising still can work. And a lot of these platforms provide means for advertising. So Google has adwords, Facebook has paid ads, so does Twitter. But it’s what’s in the content. So if you think about your audience on Facebook, paying for a promoted post or some boosted content or building a custom audience with a very tailored educational advertisement is very effective. On the other hand, if you think of it as traditional broadcast advertising or billboard advertising – which is one of lawyers’ favorites to think about – those are the types of messages that tend to get filtered out. So certainly, advertising still can work, but again it’s the devil’s in the details in how you’re constructing that creative message, how you’re educating, understanding who your audience and getting in front of them at that key time when they’re trying to make a decision whether to hire a lawyer or to make a referral to someone they know who might be in need of a lawyer.

 

Jim Calloway: Well, in certain advertising where people are expecting the engagement in sharing is certainly a mistake, what are some of the other common mistakes you see lawyers make online?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: It really falls under an umbrella of what I’d like to call lack of authenticity. So the most effective use of the web comes from being authentic, sharing, educating, letting your personality come through, and too many lawyers are trying to create this web persona that really does them a disservice. Because in fact, there’s so many lawyers I see and some of the stuff they’re doing online and I think, “Oh, gosh, that person’s not going to be the kind of person that I’m going to want to talk to,” and then I meet the person and then they’re just a huge mismatch. So that’s probably the biggest mistake. Lack of authenticity, not spending time actually learning how these communication technologies work, thinking they are just simply a new opportunity to do a billboard ad. Those are probably the two biggest mistakes I see on a regular basis.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: I think it’s very hard to simply start online and people don’t know where to start, so how do you advise them to get started?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: That’s a great question and I still think even today, despite the fractured way that audiences are traversing the web, I still think it’s very important to start with a website. There’s really two primary reasons for this: one is that by taking out a domain, there’s a whole set of considerations in taking out a domain, the domain being the place that your website lives on the internet. So for example, GyiTsakalakis.com. Taking out a domain, especially if your name or your firm name is really important because if you implement the website correctly, people are going to search for you online. One of the most common ways they’re going to do that is to go to Google and type your name and having a website that’s optimized for your domain is going to give them a place that you’re in control of that you control messaging on that you control the interfacing with potential clients on. So starting with that domain, getting a hosting account; I tend to plug for WPEngine, but certainly GoDaddy or any of these hosts can be okay as long as you’re monitoring speed. Website speed’s going to become increasingly important, we have very short attention spans. But giving people a way to find you online easily starting with a website is the way to do that. And like I said, I would recommend people check out WPEngine. I recommend putting your website on WordPress, which is an open source content management system and makes it a lot easier to administer, but that’s really the starting point. Everything else, to me, flows from having that one point for sending people both on offline media like business cards or email signatures, but that’s really still the starting point in my opinion.

 

Jim Calloway: Gyi, what’s the single most important piece of advice you can give lawyers about using the internet for client development?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: I would go back to the authenticity. It’s really important that what you do online reflects the type of lawyer that you are and that you strive to be. So demonstrating your knowledge skill and experience; and of course there are a lot of ethical traps sometimes if you start going down certain directions. But be conscientious of your obligations as a lawyer. Certainly be always thinking about your clients and no matter what you do online, but let your personality come through. Be authentic. Share your knowledge and try to do the best you can to stand for something in your community. Those are the types of things that potential clients really care about. Lawyers I think tend to create web presence that almost seems to be for them. It’s not directed for their target audience. It’s more of a vanity brochure that talks about how hard they fight and how long they’ve been a lawyer. When you’re really listening to clients and legal services consumers, those things, while they play some role, they’re much more interested in understanding what it’s going to be like to work with a lawyer, what kind of values the lawyer and people at the law firm have, will the lawyer be responsive to their questions, will they be there as a shoulder to cry on when they’re dealing with some of these hard life issues that people that hire lawyers deal with. So that’s probably back to that authenticity and letting people know what it really is that you’re all about. Letting that come through online is really the most important part.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: I’ve seen what I would call a touchy feely element to more and more law firm sites. Would you agree with that, Gyi?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: I think so, and sometimes I think it’s done eloquently and sometimes maybe there’s an attempt to do that. But there’s no question that what people care about is how the lawyer is going to help them deal with their issues. So everything on a website should be directed towards that kind of message versus a trophy case of the lawyer’s accomplishments. Potential clients just don’t care about that as much as they care about understanding how this lawyer’s going to help them and what working with this lawyer is going to be like.

 

Sharon Nelson: That was excellent advice. And so let’s pause for a commercial break and then we will be right back.

 

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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on The Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is the web’s role in how lawyers get found, and our guest is Gyi Tsakalakis, the founder of Attorney Sync, an online legal marketing agency, to help lawyers develop web presences that attract clients. So, Gyi, there’s so much snake oil around web marketing. What would you tell lawyers who are thinking of hiring someone to help them with web marketing without getting the snake oil?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis:  Absolutely. A huge problem, and frankly, I think as we spoke about earlier, this is one of the reasons that so many lawyers draw the conclusion that the internet’s not great for client development because they got sold on some kind of web magic voodoo wizard ninjary and when it doesn’t work, they can’t understand why. So the solution of that, just like anything else, is education. Lawyers need to take some accountability and I know it’s a hard pill for lawyers to swallow because they’re very busy and a lot of lawyers and a lot of the stuff is rather new and can seem overwhelming, but there’s simply no substitute for going out and learning some of the basics, learning if you’re going to hire someone to do search marketing, you at least have to be familiar with the language before you can actually make a good hiring decision. In many respects, it’s similar to the process of hiring a sophisticated legal services consumer hiring a lawyer. You need to do your homework. I certainly recommend getting several proposals, but ask around. Ask Friends who their vendors are and what kind of results they’re getting. And that’s the final thing is that you’ve got to define what the goals are for whatever web marketing campaign you’re involved in. And obviously there are a lot of different goals, but ultimately, most of them are going to relate to client development because let’s face it, that’s really what marketing is all about. So spend time learning, get some different proposals, and then when you have a bunch of different options, make sure you’re defining what success looks like, define those goals in advance, and then it’s very easy to quantify whether or not your partner is meeting those goals or not meeting those goals.

 

Jim Calloway: Well, Gyi, in terms of starting that learning process, what should lawyers know about search engine optimization?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: The search engine optimization question, everybody wants to know SEO. And I admit that I try and take a lot of the magic out of search engine optimization. There really is no magic to it in my opinion. If there is any magic, it’s publishing whether it’s pages or articles or some other form of content, video, podcasting. Publishing stuff online that people want to link to, talk about, share, send to their friends, and further promote. So there’s definitely some technical aspects that I don’t mean to diminish. I think that lawyers should get a good foundational knowledge of that. I certainly recommend people go to Moz as one place, but at the very essence of search engine optimization is marketing. So it really comes back to what we’ve talked about before. Educating, entertaining, putting things online that people are compelled to link to. Because after all, that’s one of the major signals that search engines use to rank sites is the popularity that those search engines deem based on the number of links pointing to the pages on the site. So start with a good foundation of the technical. You’ve got to know some HTML, you’ve got to know some things about robots protocols, which I’m not going to bore everybody with. But at the heart of it, it’s really about finding creative ways to publish things online that motivate visitors to link to, share, and otherwise promote those pages.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: We’ve been talking an awful lot about magic, which I think we’ve used that word about four times in that one set of answers. But hey want magic for online legal marketing strategies as well. So what are you seeing that’s working best for lawyers in law firms?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: Part of that is really understanding your audience. Trying to be everything to everybody is a big mistake and doesn’t work so well, but really spending some time listening to the language that your current client – if you have clients – the language that they use to describe the problems they’re facing, how they describe how it is that they view that you help them as a lawyer and being able to build content around that kind of stuff. So having frequently asked questions, and again, we’re not talking about getting into the details of specific legal information. We’re talking about things that are informational and educational but also have an entertaining twist. And I think this is one of the parts that lawyers don’t connect the dots on is that if you do a case summary of a recent decision, that might be interesting to another lawyer. But if your target audience is consumers that the public that doesn’t understand the language there, they’re not going to be compelled to link to that kind of stuff, they’re not going to be compelled to share it. So I would say that the content that we’ve seen is really effective both on social media platforms as well as search is evidence of the lawyer’s participation in the community, taking leadership positions, participating in charity events. One of the most effective things I’ve seen is, “Hey, we supported this Forgotten Harvest charity which is a food bank around the holidays. We took a bunch of pictures, we had a post about our participation, we shared that on Facebook. Maybe we boosted that content to grow a wider audience in our area,” and people get excited about that kind of stuff. They say, “Hey, look, this lawyer’s actually giving back to the community.” It’s going to generate those signals that search engines use people are going to link to it. Other charities might reach out. So that kind of what I call real law firm stuff is the stuff that does really well online. So focus on the things you’ve done historically and find ways to translate those things to the web.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: You know, I think that’s really wonderful information and I just want to underscore what you said because we are, in fact, a very philanthropic company here at Sensei. And over, over and over again, I hear prospective clients say, “I picked up the phone and called you because I saw you were involved with this or that charity and I know what a good corporate citizen your company is. So I think it’s just amazing how effective that is and I’m glad to hear somebody else say it.

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: Absolutely, I’m glad to hear that and absolutely it works really well and people don’t connect those dots. But that’s the stuff online that people want to see and another thing I always tell lawyers, especially lawyers that are litigators, guess who else sees that kind of stuff? Jurors, people that you work with in court. So doing well and doing good is particularly effective when you’re talking about the internet.

 

Jim Calloway: There’s been a lot of conversation about the future of legal practice and obviously we see the changes there. But what does the future hold for online legal marketing?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: I think we’re going to see some changes in the administration of some of the ethics rules. I think that’s one area that has some catching up to do but I think it’s going to open up some new opportunities for lawyers that they might not have had in the past. More generally, just on online marketing, to me a big part of the future is going to be location based marketing. And for listeners that want to learn more about that, look up things like iBeacon, Beacon Technology, Yext. I think location is going to be a much more powerful context for marketing and advertising on the web that it hasn’t been in the past. I think lawyers that are really committed to advertising, things like building custom audiences based on specific locations is going to become a much more important piece of the online marketing advertising game.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: Well, we picked ourselves a real big subject here when we said the web’s role in how lawyers are found; we can go on and on, I know about this. But where would you recommend lawyers turn to to find out more about this particular topic?

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: Sure. Two places I really like for just general online/inbound marketing, a lot of the things we’ve talked about today, one is Moz.com. They have a great community there, a huge, vast learning center both for local search marketing and search marketing more generally. And the second would be HubSpot.com; these are both software companies but they’ve also developed some really excellent resources. I know that Hubspot at least has some case studies that actually involve lawyers. So those are the two places that I would really start down the path if this stuff sounds compelling to you but you don’t really know how to get started. They really spell out every word from the technical components of optimizing your site to content development to email campaigns and nurturing, and they talk about how these things all work together to reinforce. The web’s a big place but those are two places that I’d start with. And, of course, you can add my name to any search in Google and see what I have to about it too, so I’ll throw that in there.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: I know that you’ve given a lot of good suggestions here and I’ve been busy writing while you’ve been talking. So we thank you for all the good advice and you’re articulate and entertaining to boot. So thank you for being with us today as our guest, it’s been wonderful.

 

Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, thank you so much for having me, I’ve been a long time listener and keep up the great work. It’s my honor and privilege to be able to be with you today and feel free to follow up if you get any questions or are wanting clarifications. But thank you very much.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology; and remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at LegalTalkNetwork.com, or on iTunes. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on iTunes.

 

Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.

 

Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.

 

Advertiser: Thanks for listening to The Digital Edge, produced by the professionals at Legal Talk Network. Join Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway for their next podcast covering the latest topic related to lawyers and technology. Subscribe to the RSS feed on LegalTalkNetwork.com or in iTunes.

 

The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own, and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.

 

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