Gavin Ward discusses how, as a family lawyer, you can grow your online reputation, sell yourself, acquire new clients from the internet and ultimately succeed online.
With legal aid cuts, new entrants to the market and more family law firms offering fixed fees, family lawyers are facing intense levels of competition. As you set your strategy for the year ahead, using the internet more effectively to increase turnover, enhance your brand, improve efficiency and future-proof your practice may seem like an obvious choice. During this time of unprecedented change in the legal sector you need to be more visible, instantly appealing and shouting from the rooftops about how you offer a different, better, service than your competition. But with so much noise and so many of your competitors already ‘getting online’ it’s easy to have your message and voice drowned out – even if you are a great family lawyer who deserves to have an online reputation that matches your offline one.
So how can you stand out? How can you grow your online reputation and succeed online? Even this January and February as numbers of divorce enquiries tend to peak, how can you attract new private-paying clients to your practice? Below are seven practical tips that you should consider when formulating your business development strategy for the year ahead.
First, type your name or your firm’s name into Google. Add words like ‘reviews’ and ‘testimonials’ to your search. What comes up? Because people going through a divorce need an excellent, personalised, legal service, they will likely be scouring the web trying to find out as much as they can about you and your firm before instructing you. If what is returned in the search doesn’t reflect how you want to be seen, you need to take active steps to improve this.
In the digital age, prospective clients will assess you online prior to contacting you, even when referred by a family member, friend or colleague. As a family lawyer, you are likely to be doing great things for your clients, but if such achievements aren’t reflected in your online presence, prospective clients will never know how good you really are - and may never get in touch.
And yes, it’s possible to mould Google search results for you and your practice, particularly by carrying out this second tip.
Google My Business allows you to get your firm better listed with Google, which brings a range of benefits including your firm’s appearance in Google’s local search results. Because people tend to search locally for their family lawyer (e.g. ‘Top family lawyers in Newcastle’), it’s crucial that you have such a listing for your practice. To really maximise the effectiveness of your listing to showcase your reputation, ask as many happy clients as possible to give you a review on your Google My Business listing. It’s best to have a template email or letter ready to send just after you’ve achieved success for them. Aim for at least 5 reviews to have stars appearing with your listing in Google Maps. Note also that Google have started to pull in reviews from elsewhere on the web, including from Facebook, Yelp and other sources so it’s worth considering expanding your efforts to include such other channels.
You may think that you don’t want to ‘get started’ with the ‘online review game’ as you could then open the floodgates for negative comments, but it’s important to note that online review channels are there for people to rate you and comment on you whether you like it or not – it’s best, therefore, to make a real effort to have the reviews that work in your favour to help you sell your services. Should negative reviews pop up, there are ways to have certain types of reviews removed, but best practice is to respond quickly and constructively.
While you do need to ‘get yourself out there’ and not rely solely on others to promote you, you should aim to share more than you promote yourself. Aim for an 80/20 split. What should you share? Generally, you should be proactively helpful to those who will potentially instruct you or refer business to you. Provide genuinely insightful content about divorce legal FAQs on your website or local publications, for example. The father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy, noted that articles which provide useful free advice will ‘hook’ 75 per cent more readers than regular articles stuffed with sales messages. This is very much Google’s view on how your content should be written too.
Or share useful posts and messages of other solicitors from non-competing areas of practice via your social media accounts – such favours tend to be reciprocated. Or when networking in relevant LinkedIn groups, try to contribute real value to the discussion.
Many family lawyers and family law firms have the same or similar practice areas listed on their websites and LinkedIn profiles, with little to distinguish them. So, what makes you different? Why should someone choose you over anyone else? It’s incredible how many family lawyers can’t answer this question effectively. This may require some deeper reflection on your core strengths and goals, but it’s worth it to help you distinguish yourself from others out there. In doing so, focus on how you help people and what your clients say about you.
And once you’ve established your core differentiating strengths, you can infuse all your online content, both within your website and across social media channels, with such messages.
One great way to distinguish yourself from other family lawyers is to have short, informative and professional videos made, published on sites like YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia, and implemented into your website. Divorcing people are often confused about the legal process and will often have a lot of questions, so short, informative videos providing useful introductory answers will appeal greatly to them. Videos are also the next best thing to a face-to-face meeting with a potential client, so they can be a compelling way of showing people that you’re the right lawyer for them. Websites that have such videos in place tend to convert at a higher level than those without. And a further benefit of videos is that search engines like Google love them, provided you mark them up with the right keywords.
Better branding, applied consistently, can help your practice to grow. Some lawyers think branding is confined to their logo or the colours they use. It’s much more than that – it’s what you are, what you do and how you do it for your practice, both online and offline. And ultimately your brand is what your clients say it is. So, to build your brand consistently you need attention to detail. For your online presence, typical branding mistakes made include having poorly designed websites, incomplete social media profiles, website content that doesn’t reflect who you really are, and not dealing with online enquiries as fast and professionally as you would should a potential client walk in from the street.
On your website and through your social media channels, you need to work out what it is you want people to do (or indeed what you don’t want them to do). It can take a great deal of energy and investment to attract the right visitors to your website, but if you don’t make it clear what you want them to do, they’re likely to drop off and visit a competitor’s site instead. An example of an effective call to action could be ‘Call me today for a free initial divorce consultation.’ If that is strategically placed throughout your site, you are much more likely to increase the number of online enquiries you get than if you had weaker or non-existent calls to action.
The days of profitable work falling into family lawyers’ laps are over. Spurred on by the smartphone revolution, internet usage continues to grow and, thus, the search for a solicitor who can assist with family law issues increasingly begins online. It’s therefore vital that you can be found and that you make a great first impression with those who find you online.
To succeed online, your strategy will always require continual refinement, but the tips above should get you one step closer to building your online reputation as a great family lawyer.