My Closing Keynote Address at Lawyernomics 2013

Frankly, I was quite surprised when Mark Britton, Avvo’s CEO,  asked me to give the closing keynote address at this year’s  Lawyernomics conference.  The reception for  my presentation at Avvo’s last effort at a marketing conference, Avvocating, was luke warm, at least from Avvo’s general counsel, Josh King. who thought it was a bit on the “screed” side.

For those unaware, Lawyernomics is a marketing conference for lawyers.


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In today’s ultra-competitive business landscape, it’s critical for attorneys to make the most of their digital presence. That’s why you can’t miss Lawyernomics 2013 – a two day legal marketing conference packed with exciting speakers offering the latest online trends and business development knowledge.
Surely, some of this puffery and hype strikes home. It’s pretty rough out there, as even hard-working, skilled lawyers find themselves staring at the silent telephone.  It can’t hurt to “make the most of your digital presence, right?  And so, I will try to be as exciting and inspiration as I can, so that Mark doesn’t regret his choice to make me the closing keynote speaker

So a virtual lawyer walks into a virtual bar…

Most talks begin with a joke to warm up the crowd and get the audience smiling. It’s always better to have a smiling audience than an angry one, especially if there is something to throw close at hand.  But there is no joke that begins with a virtual lawyer walking into a virtual bar.

I suspect there are two reasons for this.  The first is that virtual lawyers have no sense of humor about what they are trying to do.  They spend their time fighting for respectability, and anything that suggests they are joke-worthy cuts them to the quick. 

To be able to embrace a joke with good nature, you have to be reasonably secure in what you do. Virtual lawyers are not.  In the back of their heads, they wonder if the snickers they hear are about them.

The second reason is that there is nothing funny about what they have done to you, my sad and lonely band of brothers, who have the free time to spend in beautiful Las Vegas to learn how to market the crap out of yourselves in the hope that you will soon enjoy the fame and wealth you were promised when that acceptance to Cooley came in the mail.

Last year, I explained to the audience my bona fides, the authority I have to speak to such matters as marketing on the interwebz.  This year, due to the generosity of Josh King’s introduction which attributes such spectacular credibility to me that I stand here blushing, I have nothing more to say.

But I blush up here before you. That makes me stand out among the people who have taken the stage before me.  They don’t blush. There is nothing that could be said, nothing that could be done, that would embarrass them. Call them Thought Leader, Maven, King of the World, perhaps, and they will proudly wear their crown. That is the message of Lawyernomics, that if you don’t seize every opportunity to puff yourself, to make yourself the most greatest lawyer ever, who will?

And that’s where the virtual lawyer comes in.  When I spoke of “virtual lawyers,” you probably thought I was talking about lawyers with a virtual law office, the lawyers who work from their kitchen tables or the local Starbucks, who never meet their clients and share their work in a dropbox in the cloud. 

No, I was talking about something very different. I was talking about the lawyer website, the lawyer blog, the lawyer Avvo profile, who is doing all the things you’ve been told to do to market yourself.  Create a virtual persona that clients will love, will appreciate, will desperate want to hire.  Isn’t that what this is all about? 

Of course, you deserve to have that great marketing profile. You are all fabulous lawyers, dedicated to doing excellent work, dedicated to serving your clients, dedicated to the honor and integrity of your profession.  But those other virtual lawyers, the ones who you think are stealing your clients, taking the food off your table. They are the bad ones, the evil ones, the ones who bring dishonor to your profession.

As we all painfully know, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. They are dogs, but they have websites that make them look like the greatest lawyer since Benjamin Cardozo.  They know nothing about how to represent clients, but ten minutes of skimming a few well-written blogs and they can crank out a post that gives the impression that they have a clue.  Or worse still, they let other people write their posts for them in exchange for a link back to some website that sells Nigerian diet pills. It’s not like potential clients know right from wrong.  But let’s keep that between us, okay?

So these are the bar for each of you, with their search engine optimized anchor text sucking up the google-juice that would otherwise be yours.  It’s breaking your hearts. It’s killing you. These scoundrels are sucking up all the good cases and clients out there. You know they must be, because they good ones certainly aren’t coming to you so they have to be going somewhere.

You’ve heard from speakers here about how they sell laundry detergent and shiny doo-dads. You’ve heard from speakers here who tell you about the cutting edge trends, even though they, like you, can barely feed their children. You’ve heard from speakers who are smart marketers, knowing that if they endear themselves to you, you will trust them enough to give them your last few dollars. 

But what they are all trying to tell you is that the special, hidden secret of marketing yourself as a lawyer on the internet is always position yourself one step below your competition. If they scream, you scream louder. If they stroll the boulevard in hot pants, you stroll it in tighter hot pants. If they claim to have 100 satisfied clients named “Justin T.,” you claim to have a thousand.

And so I have a joke to tell you:


Two men are walking through a forest.  Suddenly, they see a tiger in the distance, running towards them.  They turn and start running away.  But then one of them stops, takes some running shoes from his bag, and starts putting the on.

“What are you doing?” says the other man.  “Do you think you will run fast than the tiger with those?”

“I don’t have to run faster than the tiger,” he says.  “I just have to run faster than you.”

Whatever sleazy thing the virtual lawyer does that angers you, frustrates you, makes you wonder why you checked the “Yes, I’m a’coming” box on the Cooley response card, don’t let it get you down. Just lace up those running shoes and be one step sleazier, one lie better, and you become the winner in the race to the bottom.

Until, of course, the virtual lawyer will then slide in beneath you. But there is always something you can do to go lower.  Just don’t be like me and blush, or you will never make it in the ultra-competitive landscape of internet marketing. 

Now, go out and be the best virtual lawyer you can be. Remember, you can always go lower.

12 comments on “My Closing Keynote Address at Lawyernomics 2013

  1. Marc R.

    What about lawyers who specialize in virtual world in-game economics and labor? If a virtual lawyer specializes in virtual law…if a dog barks in the forest, can a virtual lawyer hear it?

  2. Mike O'Horo

    Huh? How did you manage “lukewarm”? Witty at times? Yes. Informed? Not at all.

    To characterize as mainstream the motivation and activity of the bottom percentile suggests gross ignorance of marketing, online and otherwise. It also suggests that buyers are beyond stupid, which I’m sure they’ll appreciate.

    The purpose of marketing, in any channel, is to get found by those who have a problem you can solve. Once found, you still must get chosen. That’s where any hype or misrepresentation breaks down.

    While it’s true that the Internet’s anonymity can temporarily allow a dog to appear as otherwise, at some point the dog will have to step out from behind the electronic curtain and blow his cover.

    The cynical activity you describe may succeed in getting you found by potential buyers, but it won’t get you chosen.

  3. Sgt. Schultz

    The question I always ask myself is whether marketers realize they sound like they’re totally full of shit or not. Do you write this crap because you assume lawyers are morons, or are you a moron as well and make a living off lawyers who are stupider than you?

  4. Mike O'Horo

    Marketing isn’t about persuading. It’s about making it easy for those who align with your views to find you, and for those who disagree with you to recognize that and avoid wasting either person’s time.

  5. Mike O'Horo

    Let’s see. I offered specific reasoning behind my comment, with which you may agree or disagree. You offer an insulting, judgmental and sweeping declaration with nothing behind it but your presumed authority.

    Just because you don’t understand, or disagree with, the content of a comment doesn’t mean the commenter is full of shit.

  6. SHG

    Align views? 


    Potential client: Dear Mr. Lawyer, I would like you to guarantee that I will win my case, have you available at my beck and call, and pay slightly less than a burger off the dollar menu. Do our views align?

    Lawyer: You bet!

    This is one of those weird places where the use of insipid marketing rhetoric does not tend to go unnoticed. But there’s still plenty of room in the hole. Please dig to your heart’s content.

  7. Sgt. Schultz

    I was first going to move to strike as nonresponsive, but upon further reflection, think it sufficiently answers my question, even though it takes an orthogonal path.

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