Promise Unkept

Lawyers are behind the times, he wrote. They are technologically backward and fearful.

-Jamison Koehler, describing the statements of an Avvo spokesman on the ABA’s Solosez listserv.

There has been much ado between the forces of tech and lawyers who are not hellbent on promoting technology as the goal in itself.  Jamison Koehler, transitioning from his former life as a public defender in bespoke suits behind the wheel of a BMW, to private practice, was looking for answers.  He’s a smart guy, so he sought out the best means of pursuing a successful practice in the face of competition all around.  Bear in mind, he was no kid fresh out of law school, but an experienced trench fighter ready to take his show on the road.

He hit a wall. 

Last December I agreed to pay $147 a month to become an “Avvo Pro” member for DWI/DUI in the Washington, DC area. It is currently the only paid advertising I do. For this monthly fee, I get to have a “Pro” written next to my name on my profile. I liked that the designation suggests that my competitors are mere amateurs.

My profile is featured prominently at the very top of the list with two other D.C.-area lawyers who have paid the same fee. The Avvo salesman promised me all sorts of good things when I signed up for the service. None of these things has come true.

The salesman promised that the Avvo Pro designation would greatly increase phone calls and traffic to my website. I actually get fewer calls now than before I agreed to participate in the service. I used to get one or two calls a month. Now I don’t get any, despite all the activity Avvo claims my designation is generating. And I have never gotten a single client through Avvo, at least that I know of.

It just can’t be possible.  I know this because I’ve been told by a hundred people who blawg for profit, who go from conference to conference, explaining how the power of the internet can bring any lawyer success.  Technology, they say, is the key to the future of law.  These are all nice people, and they make a very convincing case.  It’s repeated over and over, and they use words that inspire.

But then, former Jones Day partner and fellow curmudgeon, Mark Herrmann, says so too.  Heck, I says so.  But when we question or challenge these things, we’re pooh-poohed as technology haters, dinosaurs, nasty old men who stand in the way of the new wave of technology that’s going to change everything. One new lawyer even labeled me part of the boreletariot (great new word, by the way) for writing about stuff that he found boring, apparently thinking that my purpose here is to amuse him.  He knows a lot about me, more than I know about myself, he says.

But what about Jamison?

Unlike us nasty, cruel, old dinosaurs, he’s doing everything right according to the marketers. Instead of hanging up on the salesmen, he took the call, bought the service and paid the bills.  No fear?  Absolutely.  No business?  Unfortunately.  Money flushed down the toilet?  Unless Avvo plans on giving it back, yup.

This isn’t a slam on Avvo, but another (boring) magic bullet alert.  It’s all wrapped up together with such dreamscapes as the ABA TechShow and IgniteLaw and all those confusing the means and the ends.  That it didn’t work at all for Jamison doesn’t mean that it hasn’t worked for anyone, or won’t work for you.  It does mean, however, that it isn’t the magic bullet, the secret to wealth and success.

As I type this very morning, there are people waiting on line to be the first to purchase the iPad.  Some just want to have the newest, coolest gadget.  Some believe that it’s the gadget, not the person behind the gadget, that will change their lives.  There will be apps that allow you to do plenty of tech stuff, like read your email or twit, all from a touchpad.  What this will do for your clients isn’t at all clear for me.  What it will not do is make your arguments more persuasive or impress the judge.  Not a single defendant will be released on his own recognizance because his lawyer has an iPad. 

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t get an iPad, or whatever new device Apple develops three months from now to replace it.  If it’s what you want, buy away.  If you think that becoming an Avvo Pro will get you more clients than it did for Jamison, sign up.  If you accept the concept of Kevin Chern, Total Attorneys CEO teaching ethical marketing, buy your territory and split your fees with them.  And if you’re bored with my writing about these issues, then turn away.

If you want to paint like Picasso, don’t worry about buying the newest brushes or the highest tech canvases and stretchers.  Worry about how you paint.  The stuff won’t hurt you, but it won’t make you a better painter.  Ultimately, people will admire the best paintings rather than the paintings on the best canvas.

I am too late to warn Jamison, and he’s already found out for himself that Avvo Pro won’t make him rich and successful.  Every day, someone new comes online to see what they should do to become successful.  Chances are relatively slim that they will find my blawg, my posts, because there are 10,000 marketers shouting buy me for every post I write on the subject.  And my old posts on the subject fade away, lost behind newer posts on other subjects.  I certainly don’t expect anyone to read all my old posts, and for most readers they never existed and never happened.  So it strikes me, as I read yet another pitch for technology as the solution to the future of lawyers, or a post like Jamison’s recognizing that not all solutions are solutions, that it bears repeating.

Sorry if I bore you, but maybe some new lawyers will hunker down and work on their lawyering instead of signing up for the latest marketing gimmick in our high tech world.  I make no excuses or apologies, and if you don’t like it, too bad.

5 comments on “Promise Unkept

  1. Jamison

    We have a certain saying in my family for this type of situation. But you have to say it slowfully, woefully, in a voice like Eeyore’s: “Yooooou weeeeere riiiiight. I waaaaaas wrooooong.” Seriously, though, I could have saved myself some money by having listened to you and the other “dinosaurs.”

  2. SHG

    And bought a darn nice pair of bespoke shoes.

    Seriously, your post may save someone else from jumping in blind on the belief that spilling some money in the magic internet will bring them wealth and fame.  You are the one who helped them, at your own expense I might add. I’m just a transmittal mechanism.

  3. Anthony DeGuerre

    Have any of the web marketing lawyers provided copies of their balance sheets, with a break out showing how much income was generated by their various on-line promotions versus word of mouth/past client referrals? In all the discussion on the merits of tech marketing, this is one piece of information I have not seen disclosed.

  4. SHG

    While I wouldn’t expect any legitimate lawyer to open his books to public perusal for obvious reasons, I similarly expect that most lawyers who are also available as marketing/social media consultants will be unable to respond to your question because the answer on both sides of the equation, on-line versus word of mouth, is zero.

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