Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Online Legal Directories: A Fantastic Source for Distribution

Since I entered the legal directory space over a year ago, I've come across a handful of "online legal marketing consultants" (many claiming to be experts at turning attorneys into "rainmakers" - I can't believe that term is still used . . ) that love to disparage online legal directories as a source for attorneys to get cases online. Always interested in understanding what the market is saying, I pay careful attention to their arguments against directories. After all, if there truly are issues with the product, then we should get to work on innovating the product to address those issues.

In general, the argument I hear against the legal directory goes something like this. "You don't want to limit yourself to being found through the online directories because, if you do, then they will control your internet presence. You should focus on building your own website and optimizing it to be found in Google. That's the best way to ensure that your will control your own destiny. And oh yeah, your existing clients are a better source for referrals anyway, so come to my seminar so I can teach you how to be a rainmaker."

Here are two problems with that assertion:
  1. Traditional media doesn't work that way.
  2. Online media is different, but it still doesn't work that way.
Out of all of the TV and movie entertainment you consumed last year, what % do you think was created by independent studios and distributed direct to consumers (that is without a major distribution company)? My guess is that it is less than 1%. Distribution rules. Always has, always will. Media business basics are: 1) create something (TV show, magazine, etc) that aggregates an audience. Then 2) monetize the audience by selling advertising against it. Here's a better question: how many informercials did you watch last year and what % of your total purchases came from the products sold via infomercial?

Now to online media . . . the primary reason why the Internet created such a stir in the 90's was because it seemed to change the dynamic. No longer would every artist, publisher or individual that wanted to get their message out be limited by their ability to "pitch the suits" to fund their idea (and watch the suits take 95% of the net profit). All they needed was knowledge of html and a url and then they could take their message direct to the public. And while, relatively speaking, this is true, distribution is still the #1 problem to solve for any website. The difference lies in the options the publisher has for distribution. The publisher has many more tools available to them . . . we've evolved from the portal deals of the late 90's to SEO, social media, viral distribution, etc. etc.

Back to lawyers and legal directories . . . the problem with the argument that the rainmaker consultants espouse is that it discounts distribution when it should be putting a premium on it. Any law firm that wants to connect with clients should be looking for as many sources for quality online distribution as possible. You want people to find you. In the legal space, the #1 source for distribution is through legal directories, not facebook, linkedin or digg. Instead of picking one or two, you should follow the golden rules of online media and try as many as possible. I'm not suggesting that you should buy a placement on every directory blindly . . . rather you should test, tweak and measure ROI.

Like all media, the best way for a law firm to connect with potential clients is to go where the audience is. And increasingly, they happen to be on online directories rich with informative content.

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