This post is the second in a series of interviews with the professionals who live at the intersection of law, the internet, and social media.

Today I’m happy to bring you the wisdom of the fabulous Mark Britton, CEO of Avvo. Conrad (whose interview I posted here Monday) was the first person I had contact with at Avvo, and as head of Marketing at Avvo, he’s a great person to hear from. But I’m really happy to be able to have Mark’s input on how the internet and social media are affecting the legal industry, because Avvo is his brainchild. Mark is also full of good advice. Since not everyone was able to get it first hand at the Avvocating Conference, I’m happy to share the wealth.

GJEL: In one of your presentations at last month’s Avvocating conference, you mentioned a concept called “the long tail.”  Can you explain a little bit more about what that means for our readers?

Mark: People think of search as very general queries (e.g., divorce lawyer California”).  As the Web takes on more content and search engines become more sophisticated in finding that content, people are generating very specific search queries.  “I am looking for the best California divorce lawyer that can handle immigration issues – especially visa issues” is a long-tail search query, and Google is able to match it with 72,600,000 pages.  The more diverse, quality content you have out on the Web, the more often Google will serve up your page  in response to a long-tail search.  And that page does not have to be a website or blog.  It can be as simple as an answer to question on Avvo.

GJEL: How does Avvo’s Q&A fit into that concept?

Mark: perfectly, actually.  Without even trying, lawyers answering questions on Avvo are putting together all sorts of keyword combinations that the search engines will match with a long-tail search.  Q&A allows lawyers to build out thousands of keyword-rich, individual pages that are simply free advertising aimed at potential clients – whether they find the lawyer’s answer via Avvo or a search engine.

GJEL: What are the other benefits of participating in the Q&A section on Avvo?

Mark: There are many.  First, in addition to the new business and free advertising lawyers get through our Q&A, we give our top contributors free advertising in various places on our site.  Second, many lawyers use their Q&A to demonstrate their expertise during initial consultations – either over the phone or in-person.  Third, many lawyers simply like to help people and will answers many more questions than will ever turn into clients.  Finally, many lawyers tell me that answering questions is cathartic and fun.  They like to get on the site and simply answer a couple of questions to ease their mind; because, in reality, many of the questions are very rudimentary.  The questioners are so confused, and the simplest guidance can help them.

GJEL: Are there other portals that offer a similar opportunity?

Mark: There are Q&A sites all over the Web.  Most are quite small in comparison to Avvo.  Comparing the larger Q&A forums, we are different because we focus on the legal profession and we know that everyone who answers is a lawyer, which makes the quality of our Q&A much higher than, say, Yahoo’s or LinkedIn’s Q&A forums.

GJEL: In one of your slides, you showed an amazing number of legal portals — do you have any recommendations for small law firms like ours to maintain or monitor our presence on all or most of them?

Mark: Build and maintain or your Core Web Presence (“CWP”) (e.g., a website, blog or Avvo profile), and then pick four or five online social networking sites where you will spend most of your time.  You might meander now and then, but becoming part of a big site’s social network is key.  Then, from that social network, link back to your CWP as much as appropriate.  It will help drive traffic to and branding of your CWP, which is your calling card on the Web.  The social networking sites are the satellites to your CWP.

GJEL: Is there a good way to prioritize our efforts?

Mark: Yes, by respecting this “Core Web Presence” strategy and being a strong community member in a limited number of satellite sites. I often recommend LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as the best satellites to supplement your CWP.

GJEL: Most of the discussions I’ve had about Avvo have been with other attorneys about how it can be useful to us in terms of marketing and making our profiles available for clients to find. But it’s definitely worth considering Avvo as a service to consumers, not just as a marketing tool. I know, for example, that Avvo is starting some consumer webinars. Can you explain what value those will bring to consumers, and what else Avvo has in the works to help people with their legal questions and to help them find the right attorney?

Mark: When it comes to dealing with legal issues, consumers are lost – completely lost.  The more we can give them tools – whether it be our directory, our Q&A forum, or Legal Guides forum, webinars, etc. – the better consumers will be served.  The reality is that consumers think lawyers make things hard.  The more that a lawyer can use the Avvo platform to make things easier, the more likely they are to hire that lawyer to do their legal work.

GJEL: You also advised lawyers in Seattle: “Don’t fear the negative review.”  Can you explain a little more about why negative reviews aren’t necessarily a bad thing?

Mark: The modern Web consumer – which is a much more sophisticated consumer on average – wants transparency in all products and services they are researching for purchase.  Think of how you buy goods and services.  Let’s say you are buying a new bike.  You find a site called “Superbikes” and every bike is rated “Super” and all of the client reviews are glowing.  Are you going to trust that site?  No, you are going to search for another site that speaks to you more honestly – a site that is not simply a shill for advertising.]

GJEL: What percentage of Avvo reviews are positive vs negative?

Mark: 85% positive.  That is because most lawyers do great work – they are just really bad at telling their story – i.e., marketing.  The more they can tell their story and help consumers at the same time, it is a win-win for everyone.  Thus the essence of Avvo.

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Andy Gillin

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. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.