Why the ABA Survey Gets it Wrong on Blogs

Let me ask you a question: Where are you more likely to buy a car, at a Superbowl commercial or at your local auto dealer? Given that most people would say auto dealer, it follows that Superbowl commercials must not be effective at selling cars, right?

Of course not. The question, as phrased, makes no sense. You can’t buy a car from a TV commercial. Do Superbowl commercials help sell cars? I don’t know, but I do know that the above question doesn’t help me figure out the answer.

Now consider the recent ABA survey that concluded that consumers do not rely on blogs to find a lawyer. If you’ve missed the debate about this, start with Kevin O’Keefe’s post, making sure to read the comments from Will Hornsby and Kevin’s replies, then read this post from Carolyn Elefant, and then this one from Scott Greenfield.

Here is the question the ABA survey asked: “If you needed a lawyer for a personal legal matter, how likely would you be to use the following resources to find one?” Among the resources listed were webistes, directories, social networking sites and blogs.

Just fifteen percent said they were very or somewhat likely to use blogs. It follows, therefore, that blogs are ineffective as tools for client development, right?

Of course not. The question makes no sense. No one would “use” a blog to find a lawyer, just as no one would “use” a Superbowl commercial to find a car. A blog is not a selection tool. It is not a directory. It is not somewhere anyone would go to “find” something.

Kevin has it exactly right. “Rather than looking at blogs and social media as something new,” he writes, “look at blogs and social media as accelerators of relationships and your word of mouth reputation.”

The lead conclusion of the ABA survey is that the first place people turn when looking for a lawyer is to a trusted source. If this is news, it’s right up there with “Dog bites man!” Two years ago, I wrote here:

The goal of all legal networking, I believe, can be summed up in those two words: trusted relationships. Just as consumers buy brand names over generics, legal consumers hire the lawyer their cousin recommended and corporate counsel retain firms based on colleagues’ referrals. In each case, what sways the decision is trust.

A blog, as Kevin suggests, is a reputation accelerator. Not every blog is. It has to be well done. It has to have thoughtful posts. It has to offer insight. I’m not talking about the blogs that are nothing more than SEO engines.

It is rare that a potential client will call a lawyer and say, “I’m calling you because you have a blog.” It is far more common, however, for a potential client to call a lawyer who blogs and say, “I’m calling you because I researched lawyers online who handle this kind of law and found frequent references to you.”

Trust is an amorphous and highly subjective concept. A blog is certainly “no magic bullet,” to borrow Scott Greenfield’s words. A blog can, however, provide substantiation for why you should be trusted. As I wrote in that post two years ago:

Online networking is no different than traditional networking – if you overlook the fact that it is plugged in, supercharged and global in reach. When done right and to full effect, social media tools add rocket fuel to all of the ways lawyers traditionally get new business. They support client referrals and recommendations, they support peer referrals and recommendations, they take in-person networking beyond physical limits, they strengthen alumni relationships, they simulate conferences and publishing by enabling you to highlight your knowledge and expertise, they even allow you to respond to RFPs.

Social media are a set of tools for broadening and strengthening your network of trusted relationships. Used properly and effectively, social media will enhance your reputation, strengthen confidence in your “brand,” and broaden your professional and personal networks. All of these combine to give others a reason to trust you – and you them.

Dare I say, even Scott Greenfield has had his reputation enhanced through blogging. I have no doubt that he is a superb lawyer. But how many people who know of him today had ever heard of him before he started blogging? Would this New York lawyer be “of counsel” to a San Diego law firm if he had never had a blog?

Blogging is a powerful tool for building your reputation. As with Scott Greenfield, you need to have a foundation to build on. Blogging won’t make you a great lawyer or even let you pretend to be one. But if you are a thoughtful lawyer with knowledge and insight to share, blogging lets you do that on a level far beyond that of any other publishing platform.