Bar News - April 16, 2014
NH Lawyers Who Blog Click with Clients
By: Dan Wise
In 2008, after Kysa Crusco left a partnership to practice family law on her own, she read an article on blogging as a practice-building tool. Then she called the article’s author, Kevin O’Keefe, a Seattle attorney who runs a web consulting firm called Lexblog.
12 Tips for Blog Writing
1. Keep your idea simple. Don’t try to convey too subtle a point in a single blog post. Break up the concept into multiple posts if necessary. (that you can then cross-link).
2. Be specific: Words or terms that you use directly impact the searchability (how likely people will find your post.) Use terms and phrases readers use.
3. Avoid puns and metaphors - they hurt Google and other search engine rankings.
4. Take time to find photos or graphics. Pay for a stock photo service such as iphoto or use Flickr (be careful about rights.) It will make the blog (and you) look better and enhances readability and searchability.
5. Headline: Be clear about the topic of your post; keep the headline to about six words.
6. Use the opening paragraph to draw in the reader. Don’t start with an aside.
7. Use proper nouns and acronyms: New Hampshire Department of Labor and NHDOL
8. Make it easy to read on a screen – 400 to 900 words is a comfortable range. Posts at the higher end of that range are not necessarily wrong. One research study showed that blogs in the longer end of that range are linked to more often. Always, length depends on what you have to say.
9. Link to outside sources.
10. Make sure the reader understands why you are sharing the information. Make the post worth the reader’s time – provide a takeaway.
11. Stuck for ideas? Ask clients or potential clients what questions they want answered.
12. Put blogging time on your calendar every week.
This list is expands upon tips provided by Jeannette Riendeau, business development manager of the McLane law firm.
Robert Ambrogi’s blog tracks new and intriguing websites for the legal profession.
“I thought [blogging] was a great idea, but I figured other people must already be doing it,” says Crusco. “When I went home and did a web search, it turned out that there weren’t many, if any, family law blogs. The nhfamilylawblog.com URL was available, so I reserved it and contacted Lexblog. They got my blog up and running, and I started writing. I was able to see an immediate effect in articles that I posted and the potential clients that were calling for a consultation.”
Six years later, Crusco has found few competitors in the field of blogging about family law in New Hampshire, despite the number of lawyers practicing family law, the low or nonexistent cost of creating a blog, and the easy set-up.
A blog – short for “web log” – is loosely defined as a website that is easily updated with short articles that are tagged with keywords and, usually, have a comment function. Blogs can have a single author or several, and the topics can be professional, personal, or some combination of the two. This article focuses on lawyer-written blogs intended as practice marketing tools.
O’Keefe, of Lexblog, says that while social media sites rise and wane in popularity, he sees blogs as a stable medium and a primary tool for small-firm attorneys to create an approachable identity to reach new or existing clients.
Blogs can be free-standing or part of a lawyer’s website, providing the crucial element of timeliness. Blog entries can also be easily converted into social media postings, thus forming the foundation for a lawyer’s digital marketing strategy.
“Probably about 50 percent of my cases come in the door as a result of my blog,” says Crusco. And while she participates in traditional networking, such as serving as chair of the Family Law Section and enrolling in the NHBA’s Leadership Academy, she keeps blogging, because it has other benefits as well. It suits her lifestyle as a working mother, allowing her to “network” by writing blog posts at home, at night, after her kids’ bedtime. “I have also found that blogging keeps me very up-to-date on developments in family law. Blogging has also raised my profile among my colleagues. I routinely receive compliments from other attorneys who have read my blog,” she says.
Ryan Russman, a criminal defense lawyer from Exeter, also has relied on blogging and other forms of digital marketing to develop his practice. Nowadays, most of his clients come through word-of-mouth, he says, but building up his practice over the last decade stemmed from a steady regimen of brief but informative articles and short videos.
Success in creating an Internet presence – whether it is your blog or articles on your website – does involve more than just having something to say and putting it out there. Websites and blogs need to be found. Crusco relied on Lexblog to help set up her website and to provide advice on search-engine optimization (SEO).
Russman, who declines to go into detail about his digital marketing strategy, relies on a mix of posting readable and timely content and some paid Internet advertising. For the most part, he created his own website and marketing approach. “I spent a lot of time educating myself,” he says. “I kept asking: ‘What are they selling me?’ You can be taken advantage of if you do not know what you are buying.”
The strategy he employs to build a practice is still on display at his website, www.russmanlaw.com/blog. While his criminal defense practice is established, he’s now shifting the firm’s website focus to developing the practice of his associate, Amy Connolly, who is more frequently posting short articles and videos on family law topics.
But these stories of success through blogging and creating conversations with clients on the Internet are exceptions rather than the rule in New Hampshire.
To research this article, Bar News reached out to Bar members to submit information about their blogs and we have compiled a selective list. We also have conducted numerous searches on Google – just as many potential clients do – to find New Hampshire lawyers’ articles and blogs. The results were disappointing. There are only a few freestanding blogs offering timely advice that showcase the ability of lawyers to plainly explain current questions of law. Unfortunately, many blogs or articles on law firm websites are either out of date or populated by content designed not for readers, but for search-engine robots.
While SEO techniques are helpful in the 21st century world of digital marketing, certain old-fashioned values still apply: Success comes to those who prepare carefully and commit themselves to a strategy for the long haul.
A blog is not a law office shingle on Internet’s Main Street, it’s a way to personally (virtually) open the door for clients, O’Keefe of Lexblog says. Blogging does not start with displaying your expertise, but with engaging in a conversation. Like face-to-face networking, you have to listen before you speak, and to show interest in the person you are trying to reach, rather than being solely intent on delivering your message.
“Many lawyers get hung up on the idea that they have to create content,” says O’Keefe. “To succeed with a blog, you have to get away from producing a summary of the law. You have to listen to find out what questions your clients are asking, and that’s where you will find out what to say in a blog.”
Russman agrees. It’s not the brilliance of your commentary, it’s your ability to provide good answers to the right questions, and to maintain an ongoing conversation. A web presence that is timely and provides practical information creates a relationship before the client ever picks up the phone or meets the attorney.
“Through social media, attorneys can show potential clients that they have experience and knowledge that will be useful to them,” Russman says. A blog post or website article written concisely and plainly can offset the “unfortunate reputation” lawyers have of being unapproachable or hard to understand, he adds. “People want straightforward communication.”
Andrew Eills, a health-care lawyer who went solo a year ago after leaving a large firm, has a blog capability on his website at www.eillslaw.com. Due to the nature of his practice and his years in the field, his blogging is less about creating new relationships and the focus is more on maintaining contact with existing clients, and satisfying his own desire to express himself.
“I’m not trying to create a daily conversation,” he says. “Most of my clients have access to a lot of information in our field. So, I’m selective about what I post – I choose to comment on news that might have a New Hampshire focus or express a thought I have. What interests me is when I can make a connection between a development in our field and technology or the broader economy.”
If he did not enjoy writing, he wouldn’t have a blog, Eills says. “You have to make it fun for yourself. Otherwise, you won’t do it.”
O’Keefe says blogging is not for everyone. “You have to be passionate about it,” he says.
Crusco says one of the best reasons for having a blog is that it tends to bring her the best clients. But not all of the blog readers who call her are the right clients.
“Some people who call the office are not interested in retaining an attorney and just ‘have a few questions’ about something they read on the blog,” Crusco says. “I respond by telling them that the information on the blog is free to read, but that if they are looking for fact-specific legal advice they will need to make a formal appointment to see me.”
“It is really important to get information out to consumers that they can understand,” she continues. “And while some attorneys might be apprehensive about giving away the information for free, I find that… the sophisticated person who will make a good client often does their own research, but can still see the wisdom in hiring a lawyer. Those are the people who end up calling me after reading my blog.”