Monthly Archives: August 2011

Should lawyers give free advice to attract clients?

free-adviceAre lawyers getting it right giving free advice to prospective clients to impress them with their lawyering skills?

I made friends with an entrepreneur recently who had looked into trade marking her business name. She has not yet proceeded with any of the firms she contacted. So I was curious to find out who she had approached and how much my competitors were charging. But none of this information turned out to be particularly surprising or interesting. What was noteworthy though was just how much free advice lawyers are giving.

She had found the firms online, yet rarely did the firms ask how she had come to contact them. One firm had even given her an hour’s free meeting and specific advice and guidance, which was then followed up with some valuable free searches.

Trade mark searches and opinions are possibly one of the most skilled aspect of trade mark registration work, and the one most likely to lead to negligence claims if a firm gets it wrong. I would not offer our valuable time and expertise giving a free search. There are plenty of online tools available which could be provided instead of a manual free search. An opinion on what is or is not registrable, is part of the lawyer’s skill. Personally, I’ve learnt from experience that it’s best not to comment about the nature of the mark someone wants to register until they are on board as a client. There is plenty of help I can offer once they are a client, if there is a problem with the mark they have chosen – for example, if it is descriptive of the product or service. What good is served by my alerting them to this possible problem? It would just drag me into giving more and more free advice, and the client is unlikely to be pleased either, because of people’s tendency to blame the messenger.

As it happens my friend has decided not to trade mark her name because she doesn’t want to go to the expense of registering a trade mark while she is unsure whether her business concept will succeed. If it comes to it she is willing to rebrand, as and if the business proves viable. Therefore, all these firms have completely wasted their time in giving her so much free advice! What’s more, I imagine as I am now good friends and a potential collaborator she’s likely to turn to us eventually when she’s ready to register a trade mark. Even if not, she may have long forgotten which firms gave her so much free advice by the time she is ready to proceed with the work.

From the book Influence – The psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini it’s clear that the giving of free advice could be a great sales technique. People tend to feel duty bound to reciprocate, and so may be manipulated into becoming a client by the gift of free advice. But as all lawyers seem to be using this approach is it really a good idea to give away so much for free – especially when the amount of work at stake is of such low value?

When you are prominent in the search engines you get all sorts of people approaching you. There will be some excellent potential clients, and there will also be a few people who have no intention of buying a legal service. They are just looking for free advice. So, it’s important to have a sales process that protects your time, while progressing the enquiries in a way that might convert prospects into clients. The fact that so many law firms seem not to really know what they are doing makes me think they need advice about how to convert clients without giving away the family silver, so to speak.

The freemium model works online, and I echo Mike Masnick in The Grand Unified Theory On The Economics Of Free that in advocating the giving of something for free “we’re never suggesting people just give away content and then hope and pray that some secondary market will grant them money. Giving stuff away for free needs to be part of a complete business model that recognises the economic realities.”

In my view, lawyers need to adapt their approach, and realise that the way they may chase work worth thousands of pounds may not be at all appropriate for capturing work from online enquiries. In any event, it would be interesting to know what in house lawyers think about lawyers giving free advice. Does it sway them to use a lawyer? Are they more likely to be impressed by the lawyer’s ability to do the job?

Whether online enquiries are for small pieces of work like trade mark registration, or are potentially for greater work, lawyers should beware of giving free advice in order to attract the work because it simply devalues legal work. It also encourages people who ring lots of firms to pick their brains to continue to do so. The more you give for free, the more it will be expected that all firms should offer free advice as standard. Ultimately it results in a drop in the prices that lawyers can charge.

In my view, lawyers are letting themselves be taken advantage of. It just doesn’t pay to give up valuable fee earner time trying to convert enquiries by giving free advice. They don’t need to show off their legal knowledge to attract the client, and there are plenty of sound reasons not to give free advice, such as the fact that you don’t have a complete view of the prospective client’s situation, and your insurers would probably not want you to go round giving free advice which could turn out to have been misleading had you known the client’s full circumstances.

If I know the location of a treasure trove that information could be worth millions to you. It may only take me a few minutes to give you the information and it may be very easy for me to give it. But the information has a value. It is worth far more than the time it takes to give it. Would I be clever to just give it away?

 

Thank You For Attending Tweet Up on 15 August

First and foremost, a big huge THANK YOU from @azrights and me,to all of the attendees who came to the #TweetingLegals tweet up on 15 August.

@iptechshark, @AjeetMinhasGTB, @Alphapoint, @andrewneligan, @Baby_Barrister, @ben_hoff, @ChristianUncut, @chris_rodgers, @copyrightgirl, @DeferoLaw, @filemot, @gamerlaw, @Greggio_f, @James_Sweeting, @JaneClemetson, @jezhop, @keithhardie, @kevinpoulter, @michaelscutt, @MilenaBurieva, @NewLeafLaw, @oohsonia, @PaulHajek, @pensionlawyeruk, @Pupillageblog, @RalphOAnderson, @robinjfisher, @Sharma_Co, @SundeepBhatia2, @TMT_Lawyer.  There were a few whose names I did not get, so am sorry if I have missed your name out.  If you let me know I’ll add it here.

It was a good chance to catch up with the tweeps I’d met before and to meet new ones.   For one person’s perspective on Tweet ups read Joanna Goodman who has written a blog about the TweetingLegals’ event.

It has been so encouraging seeing the interest there is within the legal community for a regular tweet up.  When you manage to get a good crowd together, even in August, you know there is demand for a forum where everyone can relax and engage with each other and take a break from the virtual world.  So I hope to see an increase in the rate of RSPV’s for the next event in September.

It was interesting to meet TweetingLegals and learn about the resources and services they are providing within their specialized areas.  It was also stimulating to hear other people’s insights, and hopefully some people got a few ideas for developing and growing their own careers and businesses.

Thanks to all for contributing £5 towards the food bill. This was more than enough for food, and we were also able to buy drinks for everyone too.  There is a small surplus which we intend to use for a fab TweetingLegals Christmas party, which there seemed an appetite for. tweet-up-pic

tweet-up-picI hope to see many of the same and some new faces too at the next tweet up.  We’ve scheduled this for 26 September, at the same venue – (The Knights Templar 95, Chancery Lane, WC2A 1DT ).

Please let me have any comments or feedback.  Following feedback from previous tweet ups, we laid on badges, and took contributions for food, and reserved a separate area of the pub (in the balcony area) for ourselves.  So, what else would you like to see to improve the Tweet ups?

Be sure to RSPV so we get an accurate note of attendees.  We need this information in order to secure a separate area in the pub.  It would also be worthwhile joining our Group if you haven’t already done so, so you hear about future events – Join Here.

I look forward to meeting you at the next Tweet up.  In the meantime, Happy Tweeting!

Are multiple sites SEO spam?

spamRobert Ambrogi recently wrote that having multiple sites for a single law firm is ‘SEO spam’.

As the owner of a law firm which has more than one site, Azrights and  Azrights Trade Marks, I was immediately interested.

In Ambrogi’s opinion multiple sites are ‘confusing and misleading to customers‘.

I disagree and would suggest Ambrogi reconsider this question.  There are several advantages in having different websites both from the perspective of the business owner and that of the user.   By using the term ‘spam’, and suggesting multiple sites are only for the search engines rather than for users, Ambrogi overlooks some key benefits to users.

First let’s be clear what we mean by ‘spam’.  Tim Mayer, Director of Product Management for Yahoo Search defined spam as ‘pages created deliberately to trick the search engine into offering inappropriate, redundant or poor quality search results’.

In arguing that law firms with multiple sites are spamming, Ambrogi is effectively saying that these sites are not helpful or useful to potential clients.  I agree that businesses that have multiple websites providing customers with the same content and information are spamming, and are purely designed to increase SEO rankings.

However, to back up his point, Ambrogi cites, M. Stephen Cho, a law firm that has a total of nine websites none of which provide the same content.  Each site provides its audience with a completely different set of information.

The Cho firm has one main site, and the other eight websites are focused on different areas of the law, such as divorce law, criminal defense and bankruptcy.

For example, the Cho firm site for divorce law is specifically designed so that it is relevant for anyone who is looking for legal advice on issues surrounding divorce.  The site has a blog news section, which specifically focuses on issues surrounding this area of the law and a section for case results reviewing previous divorce and custody cases.

A useful reason for having different websites is that they can be targeted at different groups of clients looking for particular products and services. The advantage of having a specialized site for a particular service means potential clients will be able to find exactly what they are looking for straight away and only see information relevant to their particular problem or query.  By having different websites for each particular service area, the Cho firm ensures that the information at hand for its clients is completely relevant for the service they are seeking.

None of the sites of the Cho firm has duplicate content, so I fail to see how they could be said to be spamming.  As long as the content on each site is different, and is relevant and useful to different searchers, all that the firm is doing by having multiple sites is helping clients find what they want more easily. It is a type of signposting similar to putting signs on a motorway to indicate that there is a hotel or restaurant within one mile.

By having specific sites that hone in on different areas of the law, this enables full service law firms or those that have more than one niche area, to create sites with niche focus.

Rather than users having to navigate a main site to find the exact product or service they want, separate sites makes it easier for them to quickly find what they are searching for.

The nature of the Internet and Google means that people are increasingly impatient to find what they want without much effort.  Few people linger on sites for long, and if they have to spend too long working out how to navigate a site to get the information they need, they are likely to be off in search of websites with greater clarity where less effort is needed to find what is wanted.

Yes, multiple sites are a way to increase SEO, but what is wrong with trying to advertise your business and ensure customers can find your page easier?