Where Did I Go? Over to Clio

I started blogging at my old URL with the intent of spreading the gospel of running a small firm on the cheap, empowering folks to do their own legal marketing, and occasionally prattle on about legal tech developments.

And then a second bar exam hit. (Horray, Missouri!) And legal practice. And a couple of side gigs. One of those gigs is a regular spot on the Clio blog, penning posts about small firm management, legal tech, etc. So, if you’re thirsting for sole practitioner tips, here is a link to everything I have written for them. Topics, so far, include:

  • SEO basics
  • Setting up @yourdomain email for your firm (instead of using generic gmail or Yahoo addresses)
  • Contingency fees
  • Agile Lawyering (this intrigues me — expect more, either here or at Clio)
  • Windows 10
  • Lessons From a New Solo

The above link is a general search for my name, so anything else I write should show up, as should anything anyone else at Clio writes about me.

Don’t go anywhere, however. I promise I’ll be better at posting here regularly now that the MF-ing Bar Exam is over.

Never Do What I Am Doing: Let the Blog Lapse

I’ve heard the question many times, from many lawyers: “Should I blog?”

The answer is not simple. Can you write? Do you have something interesting to say? Or is your plan to simply regurgitate boring legal crap in hopes of bumping up your SEO juice? If it’s the latter, that’s not enough motivation to keep a blog running and nobody is going to read it.

What should you write? Highlight issues that you see in practice — especially common issues that trip up clients, like breach of fiduciary duty in a divorce case. Take complicated legal topics and make them as approachable as possible. And have a little fun — clients need to be comfortable with you, and a fun, engaging blog is a way to reach them before they even come in the door.

The other question I always follow up with is this: “Will you keep up with it?” And the answer, for most people, is “no.” Just like any other resolution, they start out well, with a few posts here and there. Then life gets in the way and …. [crickets].

Imagine for a second that you are the prospective client. You look up the lawyer’s site and see a blog that hasn’t been updated in years. It’s not a deal-breaker. But it does show a certain lack of attention to detail.

What’s the point of all this? I’ve been naughty. See my posts here: three or four quickies, followed by silence. Or see my law firm site: one quick post on that glorious landmark marriage equality decision, with little else before or since.

Why? I can only plead busy: I’m taking a second bar exam in my home state of Missouri (the uniform bar — whoop!), while starting a law firm, while working contract work to keep the lights on. Oh, and I have a crazy little idea for a legal startup that I’m writing a business plan for in hopes of getting funding.

That’s life though, and it’s why most people shouldn’t blog. Because an abandoned blog is a sad and lazy blog. I’ll try to be better.

I Need a Buzzword for “Be Yourself” in Marketing Materials

I hate buzzwords. I hate corporate speak. I’m not going “leverage modular inclusion of work already completed” (yes, someone actually wrote those words in an email in my old office) or “synergize” (a word which invokes memories of Star Trek episodes) or whatever the heck else.

“Integrated marketing” is a corporate buzzword. But it’s one that stuck with me, and it’s a lot more descriptive and handy than “stay true” and a bit less cliche than “be yourself!” But that’s partly what it means. (The old bosses say that it means a lot more than that — consistency in branding across mediums, an eye on specific goals, complementary tactics to get there, etc. All good points, but I’m going to stick with branding here.)

To me, the most important part of marketing your practice is consistency. Send a consistent message across all of your advertising platforms: radio, television, online, billboards, whatever. Keep your brand consistent. Use similar imagery, logos, and colors across all mediums so that you build brand recognition. You don’t want to be the edgy guy on the radio, the boring billboard guy on the streets, and trustworthy experienced stuffy guy in person. You can’t be the budget DUI lawyer in the television advertisements and the high-end white collar guy on your website. And pretending to be seven different lawyers can be exhausting. And from a more practical standpoint: consistent branding means each time they see your ads, they’ll recognize you. (And when they need your services, you’ll hopefully be one of the first names to pop into their heads.)

I say: be yourself.

For me, personally, it’s as simple as that. My lawyer bio has a few of my interests, a picture of my puppy (along with a warning that he is sometimes at the office), and some rambling about my passion for family and family law. And throughout my website, I’ve put a little bit of my personality into everything — my blog posts, ads, and even the discussion on fees.

Why? Two reasons: (a) I’d rather be myself at all times and (b) if I were the client, I’d rather find a human being that I can connect with than a diploma in a suit. I’m not the only one who feels that the traditional lawyer bio is a little stuffy either.

For you, consider this: how many graduates has the legal education system pumped out in the last ten years? How many of those have started their own practices because they couldn’t find a paid gig? Competition is heating up and nearly all of us have shiny diplomas and padded resumes. But are you someone a client wants to lean on in a crisis?



My Love/Hate Relationship With Avvo

I never wanted a relationship with Avvo. Maybe it was because I worked for the “other guys” for a bit, or maybe it was because they created a profile in my name without my permission and slapped an inescapable score of mediocrity upon my name without knowing anything about my practice or professional skills, but I disliked Avvo from the start.

As the greatest artist of our time would say, “I knew you were trouble when you walked in … so shame on you now-ow.”

But, alas, when I started my full-time practice, there it was: that damned mediocre score, plaguing my search results. So I claimed my profile. A few months later, this is where we stand:

I Actually Like the Q&A Section

I’ve answered a few questions. And the response from other attorneys has been positive. But even more helpful are the other answers that come in after I’ve posted — attorneys thinking of something to add to my answer. It’s interesting and educational to see what other lawyers think about the same problem, especially when their advice is a mix of law and the real world.

And the Reviews and Peer Endorsements

Unlike many others out there, I actually like review sites. Maybe it’s because I’ve never gotten a bad review, but I figure that the more feedback I get, the more I can learn. And most clients are smart enough to ignore the raving loonies who write a 500 word rant about how you wouldn’t take their case on for free. (A friend still has that review stuck to his Yelp page. Ridiculous.)

Peer endorsements are a good idea, in theory, but let’s be honest: it’s basically a quid-pro-quo, friends patting friends on the back, sort of practice. I’d hope that no client would say, “he has 57 other lawyers who like him! He must be good!” Except, peer endorsements seem to affect Avvo ratings, so it does seem to work, at least to an extent.

But I Despise Arbitrary Scores

So, I played their game: four 5-star client reviews, one peer endorsement, and a handful of answered questions. How much has my score gone up? I don’t believe that it has. At all.

But if I really wanted a score boost (which matters to clients, if the cold calls my suite mates are getting are any indication), apparently changing my photo to a goat and puffing my profile with made up awards and publications might do the trick. I’d rather be honest and underrated, however.

I know lawyers who are awful. They have 10s. I know lawyers who are great. They refuse to play the game and have a five or a six.

Also, that shady SEO trick is still rubbing me the wrong way.

Edit: since nobody reads this anyway, I’m going to stuff in their SEO juice-giving buttons here!
Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice.

TL;DR: Avvo forced me to claim a profile created in my name. I’m still a bit bitter, especially since I can’t get my Avvo rating to go up. But props on the Q&A section, which is helpful for free riders and fellow lawyers alike.

EDIT: Also, I hate the cold calls for advertising and the other lawyers’ faces and ratings plastered across my profile. Kind of a dick move to create a profile in my name, then put a bunch of other people with their shiny Avvo ratings on it.

Today’s Favorite Toy: Canva.com

Graphic design is not one of my talents. My logo (or at least the peacock portion of it)? A gift from a talented friend. I can set up WordPress sites, write nearly unlimited amounts of content, or troubleshoot tech catastrophes, but when it comes to making something pretty: I ain’t an artist.

I stumbled upon Canva earlier today when I needed to create a logo ASAP. And in about five minutes, I had the name-tag logo you see above. Is it one-of-a-kind? Is it mind-blowing? No. But it is good-looking, simple, and quick. And Canva lets you do a lot more.

Edit on 6/2/15: Looks like they’re releasing something called Canva for Work. I hope it’s as awesome as the main version. The waitlist can be found here

Free Features

Canva comes with a ton of fonts, layouts, and sample images. It’s basically a super dumbed-down publishing tool that allows you to create online graphics, logos, infographics, promotional materials, business cards — any of the publishing stuff that you’d pay a graphic designer lots of money to do for you.

The easiest way to create something is to start with one of their layouts and then upload some of your own images or content (such as your own picture or logo).

Did I mention it’s free? Well, mostly.

Premium Features

There is a ton of free content. There are also a lot of premium tidbits — clip art images, layouts, etc. — that cost $1 per use. (You can also upload your own images which means, theoretically, you could use their platform and never pay a cent.)

How This Works for Lawyers

The obvious uses: logos and business cards. But where this would really shine is if you want to create flyers for offline marketing or shareable online infographics.

This took fifteen minutes while watching an episode of past-its-prime Grey’s Anatomy:

willie peacock author of
Shameless self-promotion!

Not bad, huh? I love the pre-made layouts, free icons, and how the design elements snap into alignment with each other. And the transparency feature is flawless. Also, it had no issues with my transparent .PNG peacock logo that Vistaprint and other sites choked on.

To sum it all up: free graphic design and publishing tool that has almost no learning curve. It’s definitely on my bookmarks list.

Frustration is a Natural Byproduct of DIY (Thanks Automattic!)

There has to be a lesson here. There probably is … something about me needing anger management so that I won’t break my keyboard after spending 45 minutes trying to get a simple *(&(*& logo added to one of WordPress’s own themes.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Automattic Makes Great Themes for WordPress Sites

Automattic is the company behind WordPress. There’s a more complicated relationship there — nonprofit “.org” versus the for-profit spin-off, but who really gives a damn? Short version: same folks.

So it stands to reason that their own templates are going to be the quick and easy way to put a site together. And I love the Edin theme: so clean, modern, and simple. If only the “modern” menu option didn’t take over the whole page, and if only there were an integrated color chooser so that I didn’t have to go with blue for everything by default.

Anyway, the theme and Automattic both advertise the new “Site Logo” feature: set your logo in one place and it’ll show up throughout your site, automagically resized. And this is the only way to set your logo like the way I have it above — in line with the search box. If you try to use a header, it ends up above the search box and looks like crap.

Grrr. Okay. But the “Site Logo” feature begins by clicking “Add logo” under the customize > appearance tabs. And that button was missing.

F U Jetpack.

What was the answer? After thirty minutes of searching for the answer, I found it in a damned forum thread. Not on WordPress.org. Not on the theme documentation. Not anywhere.

If your “Site Logo” or “Add a logo” buttons are missing: You need WordPress’s Jetpack add-in installed. It’s free, so no big deal, but damn man, how hard is it to mention that “Site Logo” is a Jetpack-only feature?

You’re killing me Automattic.