Thoughts On Legal Marketing (And The Maximum Lawyer Conference)

I wonder if we realize how far behind we are.

Here’s what mature marketers are figuring out: how to create custom experiences that are perfectly-timed.

Here’s what lawyers are figuring out: how to write a blog post.

We’re so screwed.

(This was a rant on the phone yesterday with a lawyer friend, that almost became a Twitter rant, that turned into a blog rant. It’s consistently been a rant, so bear with me while I vent some thoughts…)

Our Competitors (And They’re Not Lawyers)

If you go to Amazon right now, you’ll experience a totally different website than I will. Same with Facebook or Twitter or whatever giant company. All adapted to you, in this moment.

That custom experience is defined by data. Some of it is small data – what you told the company you wanted, the preferences you set – but much of it is from big data. Those companies extrapolate your preferences from your behavior and all that they educated-guess about you.

So, when you land on a site, it knows you and adapts. There’s some Holy Grail element to that because only a few companies do it well (and there are many ways to screw this up), but compare that to most law firms’ websites.

What We Offer

We land on a law firm’s static site and have to sort out where our questions are and how to find the answers. That very exercise of searching for what we want already puts the law firm’s site behind the curve.

And once we find what we want, the answers are short and totally lacking personality or a human connection. We’ve got nothing that helps the searcher feel connected to the answer.

In a world of asking Alexa questions and getting uncredited answers, do we really think it’s wise to base our experiential strategy on FAQ posts?

Soon, there will be only uncredited answers. We’ll ask our internet-enabled home devices a question and we’ll get an answer. No links to click through, no site credit, just answers. And we lawyers pin all our marketing hope on getting our answers to the top of some list?

The Weird Purchase Of Legal Services

Here’s the odd reality of law firm marketing: our product is authority-driven but totally transactional. Meaning, people only try to find us when they need us, but they need to trust us completely in order to buy.

Think about that. You’ll go look for a pair of shoes today (a transaction) and get a more personal experience than you will if you go searching for an attorney (a trust exercise).

And what legal marketing companies give us is the worst of all worlds: posts packed with words that are too outsourced and too safe to show any personality. You can’t win the SEO battle against huge brands so you don’t get transactional benefits, and you can’t express any personality so you don’t build longer-term empathy and authority.

The experience your site provides is terrible. (Mine, too, by the way. It pains me.) You’re lucky if you’re a lawyer stuck in 2007. Most of us are still stuck in the late 90s with all of our business card websites.

If we want to keep up with how buyers (including us, because we’re all Amazon shoppers) decide to buy, we have to change the experience.

Trust And Transactions

I went last weekend to a legal marketing conference. It’s called the Maximum Lawyer Conference (let’s not get into how I feel about that name), and it was focused on finding new clients.

The whole show seemed split between the two marketing functions of showing up when someone wants to make a transaction, and proving empathy/authority when someone finds us.

That split personality reveals the problem: we can’t do both without really stepping up our game. And I don’t know if we can do that well.

Amazon has the data to meet you where you are. They’ve spent decades getting into your brain, making you feel comfortable enough to buy from them. It started with persuading you that providing your financial information online was okay, and now they store it for you. You trust them enough to “buy it now.” Incredible.

And since they’ve established all that trust and authority, they can focus completely on the transaction. They follow you and take notes, then give you what you want, when you want it, at a price that’s lower than the value you perceive.

That’s what buyers expect.

Building Trust In A Panic

But lawyers do the opposite. We wait for the transactional intent (a search, or a view of one of our many online profiles, a referral request…), and then we try to build the trust. We hope that we have the answer somewhere and we stuff it down their throats.

Maybe we use our websites. Some of us have packed those things so full of information, and we hope the transactional buyer will stick around long enough to find their answer. If they do, we think they’ll trust us enough to buy.

Or maybe we use our own voices. We take consult after consult, acting as a human Google, answering every question and hoping that will create the authority/empathy bond.

In either case, we develop authority and empathy only after someone has shown us transactional intent. But we’re already behind.

If we don’t develop trust before the transaction, we have little hope of making a profit. We simply can’t charge appropriately for the work we do.

Perception is everything with pricing. If the buyer thinks we’re irreplaceable, she will pay more. If she thinks she can just do another search online and find a suitable replacement, all we can charge for is our labor. That’s a fool’s game for an expert business.

Why The Old School Still Works

What blew me away at this Maximum Lawyer Conference was a talk by John Fisher. John practices medical malpractice law from upstate New York, and he talked about the long list of marketing activities that give him the best results.

Here’s his super-modern list:

  • Writing a book;
  • Speaking at CLEs;
  • Building relationships with lawyers;
  • Writing for local bar associations…

Are you sensing a pattern here?

John does everything he can to build trust before transactional intent, then he makes it easy for people to find him.

He uses all the old school methods to build the trust, then uses very limited new school stuff to make sure he can be easily found and vetted.

After all this time I’ve spent trying to figure out the new tools, it’s the old tools that do the heavy lifting. And that makes perfect sense.

Why Amazon Wins

Amazon doesn’t win our business because it’s the most prominent result in Google (even if it often is), Amazon wins because we all have an opinion about Amazon.

We know the business, we trust it, and we have that trust reinforced every time we interact with it.

I wish we could talk about customized, perfectly-timed, expertly-targeted results for the legal buyer with transactional intent. But I know that only gets us the transactional relationship because we’re bad at it.

Legal SEO companies will promise you that because AdWords searchers are buyers. They’ll say that’s just like Amazon, but you don’t buy Amazon because it came up first in a search; you buy from Amazon because you searched on Amazon.

If you want something like Amazon has – deep trust followed by flawless transactions – stop worrying about SEO or generic content or free consults, and start worrying about relationships.

Do You Actually Want An Expert Business?

We have no right as expert businesses to compare ourselves to Amazon. And not because we don’t have ninja SEO people or infinite 300-word blog posts. We aren’t Amazon because no one trusts us.

They don’t come to us first. We aren’t their gateway into the legal world. We’re a specialty store selling an expensive product no one wants until they do.

We either have to embrace that reality, desperately over-spending to come up first on search results, or we have to build trust before a transaction ever takes place. I’d recommend the latter.

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