Grow your NYC Law Firm in 5 easy steps? There is no secret sauce

Over 186 posts I have covered everything from: “Can I keep my car if I file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in New York” to the particularly spellbinding “Are cat’s exempt under Bankruptcy Law.”  The most broad to the most mundane topics.  To a lesser extent, I’ve done the same for Real Estate.  Realistically, there are only so many things that can be said about Real Estate and Bankruptcy.  My goal-the focus of this blog- was to present you with information that would be easily digestible.  I’d rail against those with websites that would copy and paste statutes and expect normal people, let alone attorneys, to decipher whether or not that law applied to them.  There is not much left to say on this front and this brings me to a bit of a cross roads here.  For months I’ve opened my WordPress site and thought about different variations of things to blog about.  Certainly I could discuss whether you can strip a lien in a Chapter 13.  Or, I could talk about whether you can give your family a ton of money before filing for Bankruptcy (you can’t).  But it just isn’t interesting.

This blog began years back, as a way to inform and still market in a cost effective way (I didn’t have money for TV ads-Thank God).  What an amazingly fun way to get my voice across and reach the number of people I did.  When Facebook began to grow as a tool for businesses to “reach” more people, I drank the Kool-Aid and jumped right on the bandwagon.  To date, I have 607 likes.  At this time last year, I believe I had 604.  For each posting (mostly links to other interesting articles), I receive anywhere from 6-12 likes.  Approximately 1-2% reach. I’ve spent untold thousands of dollars on promoting the business through Facebook.   I’ve yet, to my knowledge, to retain one person from it.   Let’s just skip LinkedIn altogether as I’m now connected with over 1000 people, the vast majority of which would have no idea who I was if I was ordering coffee in front of them.  And my Google AdWords budget has ensured that I will not be retiring anytime soon.

Twitter was, and is, fun.  The sheer breadth of information you have at any given time is simply staggering.  Political pundits to pictures of dogs.  For me, the benefit of Twitter has been speaking with Brian Cuban (who, incidentally did not pay for my coffee), whom I had the chance to meet in person and who is a great guy, about first amendment issues.  Brian Tannenbaum, the grumpy old jewish lawyer from Miami, and Scott Greenfeld were and continue to be an eye opening pair to me.  In an age where everyone internet hugs (“Great Job on your website, Derek”!)-Derek’s website is absolute crap, it’s so good to see so many others out there who will actually tell it like it is. They’ve practiced longer than I’ve been alive and can do circles around most attorney/marketers I know.  Scott has absolutely no idea who I am and would 100% disagree with the way I started my practice, and that’s fine, because every time I thought about doing something a little too marketer-ish, Scott tweeted something and something clicked for me.  I can’t explain how important and vital they are to the this profession. Some time last year, Scott’s refrigerator broke.  And, honestly, if I was a fridge in Long Island, I would want to break too (those of you outside of New York will not understand this, and you’re better for it.)  But that’s besides the point.  Scott didn’t stop pestering KitchenAid to fix his fridge as it was under warranty.  He made up a Twitter account for his broken fridge.  He got some traction with it.  There was a point behind it (which took a very, very long time to decipher).  If you make a promise, you have to keep it.  You have to honor your word.  That’s missing these days.  That personal connection of looking someone in the eye and saying you’re going to do something and doing it is missing in business and in life.  Because it’s just excused.  Missed phone call?  Sorry, was stuck in traffic, have to reschedule.  Missed deadline?  Sorry, boss just threw something on my desk and I couldn’t make it in time.  That’s just not good business.  That’s just not the way to grow things.  I don’t care how many “back links” you have, you’re not going to grow this thing by not following thru.

For every new attorney who now somehow inexplicably lectures others on how to successfully promote a profitable law practice out of your mother’s bathroom, there is Jordan Rushdie, an attorney who started his own practice, tells real life wars stories and doesn’t sugar coat any of it (because that’s the way it is in real life and the way it should be.) Before you read about how rich your online presence will make you, you should read this.   The huge asterik here is that I’m guilty of the same things I consistently accuse other people of.  I’ve taught courses on how to start your own practice and, in hindsight, they were absolutely mistakes. I spend a massive amount of time re-doing my website.  I love it.  But I don’t do it because I think that’s the only way I’m going to have business come in.   I’ve no doubt the advice I gave to individuals has been, at least in part, useful, but I’ve learned that I’ve absolutely no business telling someone in Spokane how to get clients.  Because the truth is no one knows how to get clients in Spokane unless they are the ones getting clients in Spokane.  The truth is Greenfeld and Tannenbaum are right to state that most of these attorneys that try and market themselves are selling snake oil.  All of our websites are basically the same.  All of our pitches, our marketing, our tools; they’re identical, down to the font’s we use.

Google “Real Estate attorneys” in your city right now.  Click on the first 5 websites.  I’ll bet you anything that at least 4 have a picture of a home or smiling family.  Most will list who they are how they’ve handled soooo many real estate closings, they don’t know what to do with themselves!  They promise you personal attention.  Each one of you.  Personal Injury lawyers will list the huge settlements they’ve collected in the past next to a construction worker getting into a horrible accident…in the 1990’s.  Estate attorneys do not have pictures of tombstones, though, and this is forgivable and perhaps for the best.  The truth is most new attorney’s don’t know what to do anymore.  How are they going to bring in more business?  And the only people who seem to be telling them how to do it are-my God-the very last ones I would want telling me how to do it.  If you want to learn how to run a triangle offense are you going to want to ask Phil Jackson or Hank, the pizza guy, who played for the Grand Rapid’s Ostrich’s in 86′?  The real secret Phil Jackson’s in law because you really can’t teach this stuff.  You feel it out.  You see what works and what doesn’t.  There is no secret sauce in the online game.

I received an email today from an attorney who is also a legal marketer, which, in my opinion, means business is a “little slow.”  In almost every email the tone is a very “I’m going go tell it like it is” while, simultaneously, selling you something.  “Look, don’t fall for these silly schemes all over the internet telling you how to increase your business.  Instead, let me tell you how to increase your business.”  It’s cute, but you know if you just peel that top layer back a little, you’re going to see what’s underneath is exactly the same as the guy next to him peddling the same thing.   In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsing says:

“The result is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of “style” to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony. Put the two together and you get a pretty accurate basic description of modern American technology:”

If you replace technology with legal marketing, you have the crux of today’s solo and small firm online marketing field.  This sheen of authenticity over a strategy which simply doesn’t, and wont, work.  Google is never going to make you rich.  Your SEO is never going to buy you a boat.  Twitter is never going to get you more than 15 minutes, max.  You’re never going to build a successful law practice out of your basement if your idea of a successful law practice looks anything like having associates and an ever expanding field of work and referrals.  This guy/girl pushing some online manual and “one on one coaching”  is never going to teach you a single thing you couldn’t learn on your own.  If they knew, they would be absolutely crushing it right now and would have absolutely no desire to tell you what they’re doing right.  It’s not human nature.  Jerry from Goldman doesn’t call you in the office to let you know about his picks for the opening bell.  You know how I know?  Because the month I began practicing, I emailed this very same lawyer I now refer to seeking guidance.  Any guidance.  The e-mail response: “Sorry but I can’t really give you guidance since you compete with me.”  I was 24.  He had been practicing for a decade.  Completely fair, but don’t try and be my BFF now. And his partner?  I sent him a client about 2 months ago because I don’t practice in that jurisdiction.  The client was a legitimate paying client and wanted to hire someone, not just “feel them out.”  By the time this client got through the attorneys 32 “virtual assistants” (which, ironically enough is intended to increase efficiency and lower overhead) and had his voice messages transcribed onto an iPad, the client was pretty flustered.  Guess who else didn’t get a call to thank them and ask about the referral?  Me. Rule #1. Broken. You think anyone I know is going to send this guy a case?  For all the talk of modern technology and marketing, you’d think an attorney would know about the importance of personal connections.

When I was quoted in New York Magazine last year, some attorney/legal marketer called me-out of the blue-and told me he was going to send me his book, free of charge.  Which was wonderful since I never asked for his book and never would have paid for it.  The book- whady’a know-was about marketing your practice and getting those clients you reallllyyy want.  The one’s that don’t question their bills and that won’t bother you in the office and that will allow you time to grow your practice and spend more time with your family?  Those are non-existent clients.  If you ever do get them in real life, you should never tell anyone about it and laugh to yourself.  You do not share this with the group.  This is not a legal kibbutz.  You don’t like it?  Quit law. Putting yourself on “the first page of Google” is not going to really lead to riches.  We practice in a severely high stress environment with people’s money and freedom in our hands on a daily basis and we are their first, last, and only line of defense.  And they pay us very good money for this.  We’re not running a pet spa in Aruba.

You know what grows a law practice?  Hard work.  You know what else?  Drinks.  Dinner.  Networking.  Letters.  Following up with people. Good bottles of wine (I’m talking to you, Tannenbaum).  Inviting people out.  Organizing things. Starting chapters of local clubs. Meeting other….humans.   Looking them in the eye and saying “It will be filed Friday” and filing it Friday.  Follow-thru.  If you think by “establishing your internet presence” and saying “I have a BLOG!!!!”  you’re going to sit back and watch clients fall all over themselves racing to “Skype” chat you with their credit card in hand, my friend, you better have a shit load of Real Housewives on DVR, because you’re going to be there for a lil’ while.  I speak from experiences as I have all those episodes of Real Housewives on my DVR.  Sigh.

I wish I could stand by this somehow and guarantee it for people.  I’ve stated on so many forums that I’d take on any marketer out there.  He/she gets 10 people and I get 10. I guarantee you the person who goes out of their comfort zone more; who goes to more events, will produce more LASTING clients than a person who is updating their website with more and more functionality and more places to “find” the lawyer.  Enough with the “find me” nonsense.  You can find me on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Redditt, on WordPress, on Tumblr.  Where the hell am I that I need to be found this often?  I have a cell phone and an office.  Call my mother if you can’t find me; she can find me and she can’t even open an email.  That’s not true, mom.  I know, I know.