Law Sections

Reaching the Masses

Law Firms Raise Their Profile Through Blogs, Social Media

Jeff Fialky

Jeff Fialky says consumers of all types of goods and services look for them on the Internet, and savvy law firms are taking advantage of that.

Kevin Maltby says few people buy anything without checking it out online first.

For example, millions check out Yelp reviews before making dinner reservations, or head to Amazon to read product reviews before making a purchase — even if they plan on buying the item elsewhere.

The legal world even has its own review site, Avvo, said Maltby, an associate with Bacon Wilson, P.C. in Springfield. “I would liken that to the comment section on any retail site, where people rate the lawyer and talk about the lawyer. To some degree, in the day and age we live in, no one buys anything without going online and looking at reviews.”

That’s why it’s more important than ever for attorneys to control their own image and messaging, and increasingly, firms are doing so through blogs and social media.

“I think it’s valuable,” said Jeff Fialky, a partner with Bacon Wilson. “First, it has value for marketing purposes. I think most consumers, when they’re looking for a professional service provider — like a law firm or any other good or service — is using the Internet, furthering that global marketplace.

“We get a fair amount of business from outside the area,” he continued, “from people looking for established law firms — from a business in another state, for instance, that needs a local transactional lawyer in this area — who go to the Internet to find an established attorney with relevant experience.”

What they often find is a post on one of Bacon Wilson’s four blogs — which deal with employment law, estate planning, bankruptcy, and family law — that piques their interest. That might lead to a phone call — and a new client for the firm.

Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., an employment-law firm based in Springfield, also hosts a robust blog at its website called “The Law @ Work.” Recent topics include the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, protections for employees who ‘like’ Facebook comments critical of their employer, and Massachusetts’ new law granting domestic-violence leave (see related story, page 27).

“A lot of articles are geared toward providing some sort of information or guidance to employers, whether it’s HR professionals or other people in business,” said Kimberly Klimczuk, a partner with the firm. “Sometimes, we’re reporting on interesting cases.”

But if the blog is a marketing tool, she said, it’s not one intended to generate more phone calls, but rather one that raises the firm’s profile as an expert resource in the ever-changing world of workplace law, which is just as important.

“Although everyone likes to think we reach more clients through the blog, that’s not the primary purpose,” she said. “It’s a publication, primarily. You want to generate content for the blog that is of general interest. Of course, if more HR professionals and employers read it, that’s awesome.”

Peter Vickery understands the value of a regularly updated blog in boosting his professional profile — a particularly important consideration for a sole practitioner in Amherst.

“It does boost your Google ranking,” said Vickery, who focuses his practice — and his blog — in the areas of employment and discrimination, copyright and trademark, voting and elections, and public policy, among others. “That’s not the reason I started blogging, but it’s one reason I kept doing it. Every time I update the blog, Google’s algorithms boost my ranking.”

For instance, the blog can catch the eye of “people who are looking for anything in my practice areas, employers and landlords and people who have an interest in constitutional law. That third group is more amorphous — an audience of people who have an interest in First Amendment issues, separation-of-power issues. If someone is Googling, say, ‘Article 30, separation of powers, Massachusetts,’ one of my blogs should pop up. It’s a hard market to reach otherwise.”

For this issue’s focus on law, BusinessWest talked with some area law firms that are heavily invested in reaching the masses online through blogs and other forms of social media, like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and examine why these channels, when managed correctly, help lawyers control their own reputation and generate business.

Information, Please

Various areas of Bacon Wilson’s sprawling practice lend themselves to social media, said Maltby who listed estate planning among others. Hyman Darling,  a partner with the firm, has recently taken to the “Estate Planning Bits” blog with posts on changes in estate- and inheritance-tax law, a change in how inherited IRAs are protected in bankruptcy, and whether religious marriages are valid for estate-planning purposes when no civil marriage license was issued.

“A lot of people read the estate-planning blog or the employment-law blog for their own information, and if they have questions, they might call,” said Maltby, who added that certain practices, like his own work in criminal defense, don’t lend themselves as well to blogs.

Klimczuk said arming clients and others with information from employment-law experts is the foremost reason her firm maintains a blog.

“If people read your blog, hopefully, if an issue comes up, they’ll remember the blog, think, ‘they seem to know what they’re talking about,’ and give you a call,” she told BusinessWest. But even if that never happens, “we think it’s a good way to share information with the public about our area of expertise.”

Fialky said Bacon Wilson’s public profile has certainly been raised through its blogging and other social-media presence, including Facebook pages for many of its lawyers,

“On the other hand, it’s valuable for individuals to educate themselves with respect to legal concepts,” he noted. “While legal concepts vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, others remain constant. For instance, issues facing a startup business are fairly universal across the country. Creating blogs provides us with accessibility to markets that word of mouth and geography would otherwise not provide.

“Just the other day,” he added, “one of my colleagues received a query from a company, very distant, from one of the western states, entirely on the basis of an article he had written and posted on one of the blogs. They had a specific need, and they called.”

If clients and the public are learning from reading legal blogs, Vickery said, he benefits in a similar way from writing them.

“I’m motivated partly by fear,” he said, only partly joking. “I have this fear of not knowing what the most up-to-date law is. A lot of attorneys have a recurring nightmare of being in court, and the opposing counsel drops this unfamiliar case on you.

“Keeping my blog up to date is almost self-discipline,” he continued. “If I have to read cases in a certain area of practice in order to maintain my blog, I can sleep easier and not get those nightmares so much.”

Other forms of social media can be effective either on their own or in conjunction with blogs, Klimczuk said. “We use Twitter more casually, sometimes to promote things, like a blog post. We find that, when we post something on the blog, then tweet about it, it directs more traffic to the blog. It’s our way of illuminating areas of the law that would be of interest to people.”

Twitter is also valuable for promoting events the firm is involved in, she said, while LinkedIn is used more for business contacts, “as a way for clients to keep in touch with what we’re doing.”

At Bacon Wilson, “certain lawyers have found success on Facebook,” Maltby said, offering the example of someone reaching out to an estate-planning attorney with his own issue or that of a friend, because of a relevant post they read.

“I’m a commercial transactional lawyer,” Fialky added, “so, for me, it’s unlikely that business owners outside the area, or even in this area, would be looking for a service provider by way of Facebook. But they may connect through a LinkedIn relationship or a blog. I’ve received inquiries over the years on articles I’ve written in blogs.”

Maltby noted that Bacon Wilson’s website, which hosts its blogs, is mobile-friendly, to make it easier for people who access the Internet on the go to find the information they need — and easily find a phone number if they want to call.

Open Book

Fialky understands he’s practicing law in a new world of consumer research, which is as true of law firms as it is of car shoppers and restaurant patrons.

“Very frequently, by the time I talk to a new client, they’ve already read my bio online,” he said. “Clients are good consumers and want to understand with whom they’re doing business.”

That’s why it’s critical to actively build that profile, rather than sit back and let sites like Avvo do it. Any additional business that arises from those efforts is just a bonus.

“It certainly helps me with the pipeline; I’ve gotten some business by way of the blog,” said Vickery, who has posted recently on campaign-finance law, Facebook defamation, and recent decisions by the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination. “I can draw a direct line from a couple of blog pieces to revenue, which is always encouraging. With advertising and marketing, it’s often difficult to see what works and what doesn’t work. Every now and again, things clearly work, and these were instances when it did.”

Most law firms don’t blog, and many have no social-media presence, but that could change, Klimczuk said.

“As more people get into social media, it’s kind of expected that firms are going to participate, which creates a scenario where firms that are not doing it are kind of at a disadvantage,” she said, adding that it’s not enough just to create a blog.

“If you’re doing a blog, you have to make sure it’s updated. If you post every two months, that’s super lame, and it makes you look bad. You have to update on a regular basis with relevant content, things people are interested in. It definitely adds a new dimension to the practice of law.”

Fortunately, Maltby said, it’s not difficult to find new topics to write about.

“Information is always changing, and the law is always evolving, so if you don’t keep your blog up, it gets stale,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s always new information, new cases. In the employment-law world, that could mean a new wage-and-hour case reinterpreting lunch breaks … stuff like that.

“It’s an excellent tool and another way to keep clients informed,” Maltby said of social media in general. “But I think it’s very important to make sure, whatever you’re posting, however you’re using those online tools, that it’s done in a professional manner. If you do, it will resonate with a large cross-section of clients.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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