I was fortunate enough to spend January 21st and 22nd at the Avvocating Conference in Seattle, where I learned more than I ever thought possible about online legal marketing. It’s no secret that the internet has become part of everything we do, in both our personal and professional lives. It only makes sense for attorneys to begin to market themselves on the internet because the fact is that the internet is where most people look when researching attorneys.

The line-up of presenters was great, focusing on all aspects of internet marketing for attorneys, from how to effectively use social media to search optimization. The conference was innovative, and as a result somewhat controversial. Some attendees had mixed feelings about the advice given by some of the speakers, and it made for an interesting discussion about the intersection of law and the internet.

Here’s a a quick run down of the session line-up:

Mark Britton, Avvo
Mark is the CEO of Avvo, and he opened the conference by reminding us all of the power of the internet. He explained that these days, if you’re not on the internet, you don’t exist. If potential clients are searching for attorneys online, you can only be found if you have some sort of web presence. Mark spoke about focusing on “preserving the core” of your online presence. Whether that be your website, or maybe your Avvo profile, it should be considered to be your primary place of engagement with the world. From that core, it is possible to  branch out using social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and to point contacts made at those platforms back to your core site. Note: While we’ve been on Twitter for several months, Mark helped raise my awareness of the possibilities of LinkedIn and Facebook.

Robert Ambrogi, Esq.
Bob Ambrogi is a well known legal blogger. He continues to monitor the legal industry’s presence online through his blog, LawSites. On top of his social media presence, Bob still has time to continue his work as a practicing lawyer and mediator. Bob got the group thinking about the things Mark had talked about–how to branch out from our core presence on the web and use social media to connect with other attorneys as well as potential clients. Note: it was great to hear Bob speak, since I’ve been following him online for a while. It’s great to meet the masters.

Maz Sharafi, Facebook
Maz presented to the group on the marketing and sales advantages that Facebook offers. Maz is the Head of Local Advertising Sales and Partnerships at Facebook, and as such, he’s a pro at knowing how to maximize a firm’s presence on facebook. He gave basic information about how fan pages work in comparison to profiles, and also more advanced tips, like what kinds of ads tested well on Facebook. Note: We haven’t done any Facebook advertising for our usual personal injury cases, but it has worked well for us on occasion.  Also, look for the GJEL firm page coming soon!

Doug Mandell, LinkedIn
Doug is the former General Counsel for LinkedIn, and is currently the managing partner of the Mandell Law Group, PC, which specializes in technology transactions, corporate, employment law, and general counsel services. Doug provided valuable insight into the many ways that attorneys can use LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be more than just a place to build a resume-style profile. There are opportunities to answer questions in your industry to illustrate your expertise in your practice area. Attorneys on LinkedIn can join groups and network with other attorneys to further share their expertise. Note: It seems like LinkedIn is probably more applicable to other areas of law,but we’ll probably be poking around the Q&A section in the coming weeks.

Kathy Gill, University of Washington
Kathy is an expert on social media and has been teaching students about digital media since 1998. Kathy’s presentation was focused on Twitter, and how to use it. Twitter is a simple concept–just write 140 characters and hit enter, and it can be a great networking resource. But people are also intimidated by Twitter–is it important to have followers? What should I say? Whom should I follow? Kathy cleared it up by discussing how to use Twitter as a tool for conversation, and to remind us to watch and listen to that conversation before jumping in, just as if we were at a networking event, live and in person. Note: I thought Kathy gave terrific advice; her reminder to listen first is one I’ve always tried to take to heart.

Steve Willey, Savitt Bruce & Willey, LLP
Steve is a partner at Savitt Bruce & Willey, LLP. Steven moderated a social media panel which included Kathy Gill, Doug Mandell, and Maz Sharafi. It was interesting to hear perspectives from Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook experts, but the general consensus was that whatever you do, you need to be involved in some sort of social media. It is, as they say, the wave of the future.

Tim Stanley, Justia
Tim is the CEO of Justia, a company that provides online resources to legal professionals and others. Tim can help attorneys start their blogs and develop a great social media presence. Tim was the last presentation of the first day, and was also the most practical of all the speakers that day. While the presenters who spoke about social media platforms and then spoke on the panel gave a good basic understanding of the importance of social media, they didn’t offer nearly as many of the same kind of practical tips that Tim did. Tim went through a variety of blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad, as well as his own resources at Justia. Note: Tim’s sites are absolutely fantastic resources; I personally find WordPress extremely easy to use.

Josh King, Avvo
Josh is Vice President of Business Development at Avvo, and he gave a presentation on the ethics of online marketing for lawyers to kick off day two of the conference. The fact that the presentation could be counted as continuing legal education credit was also a nice bonus for those practicing in Washington, California, and New York.   Note: Here at GJEL, our founding partners were practicing law in a time when it wasn’t considered ethical to advertise legal services in any way, and accordingly, it was prohibited. Now, we’re in a competitive legal market, and we want to be able to reach out to potential clients to help them learn about our expertise and trust that they’re making the right decision in hiring us. Doing that requires being acutely aware of the ethics of online marketing, and Josh covered the intersection of ethics and online marketing very well.

Susan Lyons, Perkins Coie, LLP
Susan gave an amazing presentation on privacy. She’s an expert on it, as she is Of Counsel with Perkins Coie’s Privacy & Security practice. She gave a rundown of how she keeps her personal and professional lives separate on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and walked us through the considerations that we should take when confronted with a sticky situation like deciding whether or not to accept a Facebook friend request from a client.

Trevor Claiborne, Google
Trevor is the Product Marketing Manager for Google Analytics and Website Optimizer. He gave us an indepth look at how attorneys can use tools that Google has put out to understand who is visiting their sites and how well-designed their sites are. With these programs alone, it is possible to see how many people visit a site, where they are visiting from, how long they stay on the site, and hundreds of other things about each visitor. If an attorney is going to start developing that core online presence that Mark Britton talked about on day one, it’s important for them to be able to use tools to discern how well that core performance is getting their message across, and these tools from Google allow that.  Note: We haven’t yet tried Website Optimizer at GJEL & are looking forward to doing so in the coming months.  We’re already a big fan of Analytics!

Nate Bucholz, Google
Nate is based in Google’s Seattle office, where he manages a number of the company’s largest travel accounts. He focused his presentation on Pay-Per-Click advertising on Google as well as Google local search advertising. Nate particularly emphasized the local search aspect, because the trend in search indicates that more people are searching with more words. Of those words, it is likely that one or more is a place term. For example, people are no  longer searching for “business attorney,” they are searching for “business attorney in Seattle.” By focusing on being found in local search, you can be sure that potential clients who find you are local, and it’s also reassuring for the clients to know that you’re in their area. It makes for a much more efficient attorney-searching process for the potential client.  Note: We’ve tried both of these options over the last couple of years , with varying degrees of success.  We’ve certainly had greater success with these longer, more specific phrases than with the more generic ones.

Vanessa Fox, Nine by Blue
Vanessa is a brilliant mind who was one of the creators of Google’s Webmaster Central and Webmaster Tools.* She presented on search engine optimization, the skill of building a website that is easy for search engines to find. She elaborated on the use of keywords and link-building to explain to the attorneys how they could rank well in Google search results.  Note: Vanessa gave a great intro to the basics of SEO & I will definitely be taking her advice in constructing future blog posts.

Stefan Weitz, Microsoft
Stefan is a Director of Search at Microsoft, and he followed Vanessa’s insights on the present of online search with a talk about the future of search and search engine optimization. Stefan discussed concepts like searching with an image instead of terms, and more about local search. Note: the future of the web sounds awesome! I can’t wait!

Overall Impressions:

I thought that especially for a first go-round, the Avvocating conference was a great success. I would have liked to have heard more strategies about effective blogging, and my choice for a speaker in that department would have been Kevin O’Keefe of Lexblog, because I’ve heard him speak in webinars, and he really inspires me, as a legal blogger. His ideas about providing quality content that is useful to other attorneys as well as to potential clients are important, and serve to remind us that this whole “game” isn’t about marketing and trying to sell something–it’s about helping clients. If you want to understand why it’s important to blog, and what helpful, effective legal blogging can be, I highly recommend viewing an archived webinar the Kevin put on.

Personally, the primary reasons I blog GJEL are to provide interesting content to readers and demonstrate our firm’s expertise in issues surrounding accidents and insurance claims. Some content is for other lawyers, like this conference recap. Some content, like that which is found on our newly launched news page, is targeted more towards consumers and potential clients. When people like that content, they link to it, talk about it, and share it with friends. This is great–it helps spread information in this supposed “information age” we live in. If it helps our rankings, well, it’s only because people came here, saw what they found to be good, interesting content, and then shared it.

Thanks, Avvo, for a great conference!

*correction: this post originally said that Vanessa Fox was the creator of Google’s Website Optimizer. Thanks to Trevor Claiborne for noticing my mistake.
Author Photo

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Since 1972 he has been helping seriously injured victims throughout northern California fight & win their personal injury cases. Andy is one of the top awarded & recognized wrongful death lawyers in northern California.