Making people think you are not horrible is a full-time job for lawyers. Gallup did a poll on the most trustworthy professions in the United States and, you guessed it, lawyers are near the bottom. You know who’s the most trusted profession? Doctors and nurses, and they are the number 3 cause of death in the United States. Even historically, two hundred years ago, lawyers were drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence and doctors were using leeches to heal people. I’m pretty sure that, on top of killing fewer people, the average person will be overcharged in their life more by doctors and nurses than by lawyers, but whatever. So, again, making people think we are not horrible is an uphill battle for us.
The Internet is helping some of us tip the scales in one way or the other. Each one of these topics could be their own article, but for now, I wanted to give you a short primer on how to shrug off the shroud of horribleness we have as lawyers.
Have A Website, But Only If It Is A Good One
To tweak a phrase we all learned in kindergarten, if you can’t have a good website, don’t have any website at all. A website is more than just a passive marketing tool – it’s an online résumé for you and your firm. Just like you wouldn’t send out a mass mailer that was incomplete and written in comic sans to all your potential clients, you should not have a website that is incomplete, sloppy, or ugly. Doing so sends a message that your visitors that (1) you don’t complete your projects, (2) have poor taste, or (3) can’t afford to pay someone to build your website for you. Having a website is important, but if you have to choose between keeping that Geocities website you have for your business with a link to sign your guestbook and spinning animated gifs at the bottom, or not having a website, choose the latter.
E-mailism Is An Important Word I Just Invented
An e-mail address contains two separate, yet equally important parts: the part before the @ sign and the domain names after. Here’s why they matter. I can’t think of a better example than what the FBI told me when I was going through the Special Agent recruitment. They use automated filters to put more competitive résumés at the top and then review the top résumés manually. One résumé that floated to the top had a contact e-mail that was something like firstname.lastname@example.org, and, without even getting to his education or work experience, it went from the top of the pile right into the shredder. Why? Because apparently the government doesn’t want to risk giving a gun and a badge to someone who sounds like a weirdo. So think about that when clients are faced with an almost unlimited number of lawyers they could reach out to via e-mail and your e-mail name is something like email@example.com or Han_shot_first@outlook.com.
Which moves us onto the next topic of domain names. If you have an @aol.com or even an @gmail.com work e-mail address, it says a lot about you. If you want to use that for personal use, that’s one thing, but as a business address, that’s a different matter. Here’s an article from the Chicago Times on the subject.
When I see an @aol.com e-mail address, I think back to unique problems I have had with @aol’ers: Explaining how zip files work, explaining why I can’t e-mail you a copy of the 7-hour video depo, explaining why you should upgrade from Windows 2000, explaining what bcc means, etc. I’m not saying that having an @aol.com account means you are dumb, I’m saying that it carries a negative connotation and that I assume you are dumb. It’s like racism, only acceptable and based on more solid science. It’s what I’ll call “E-mailism.” Whether that radically unfair mold fits you is not the important question. The important question is, “Are your potential clients also e-mailists?”
Buy a domain name for $12 a year and use the free e-mail address that you usually get with your domain name. Start putting it on business cards and on your website and start responding to business e-mails from your new professional e-mail address. Soon, your business e-mails will be in one spot and your personal e-mails will be in another with very little work on your part.
Own Your Web Presence
If you are a lawyer, like it or not, you have a web presence. Google yourself (or Alta Vista yourself if you are an @aol.com person). You probably have an Avvo profile. You probably have a State Bar profile. If you have your own business, you are cursed with a Yelp page. Claim your profiles and fill them out. One of the lawyers I work with has 30 years’ experience on me and has won some landmark jury victories. His Avvo.com profile shows that he is at a 6.5, which is a D-, just because he has not filled it out. Just filling out your information could raise you to a B+. Potential clients looking at that won’t know why he’s so low. If there’s nothing there, just a low score, they might quickly move on.
Hiring Us Is Hard
I have had to hire a lawyer before. It’s not like shopping for TVs. You can’t go to Amazon.com or YouTube.com and get thousands of reviews for a few products that you narrow down based on reputation. Instead, there are thousands of products (us), comparatively little information, and we start off with a bad reputation in strangers’ minds. So, do what you can to fight it. Claim your online presence. Pay attention to the nuances of how strangers view you. There are likely some small changes you could make that will have a big impact.
Ed. note: This column has been brought to you by our friends at MyCase, web-based practice management software for lawyers. Click here to learn more about MyCase and their happy customers.
Please note that the views expressed in the column are those of the writer alone.
Jeff Bennion is a solo practitioner from San Diego. When not handling his own cases, he’s consulting lawyers on how to use technology to not be boring in trial or managing e-discovery projects in mass torts/complex litigation cases. If you want to be disappointed in a lack of posts, you can follow him on twitter or on Facebook. If you have any ideas of things you want him to cover, email Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.