How Not to Do “Reputation Management”

In many of the talks I give to groups of lawyers, I stress the importance of having a strong online reputation. The reason is simple: even if your practice relies exclusively on personal referrals, those people who are given your name are going to enter it into Google. They’re going to be likelier to contact you if they see a rich variety of substantive content about you, your practice, and your approach to the law.

Unfortunately, too many lawyers have an online identity consisting of nothing, or a maybe a wafer-thin bio page. Many of these lawyers claim they’re too busy to take the time to build information about themselves online.

That’s crap, of course: it doesn’t take that much time to fill out Avvo and LinkedIn profiles, make sure you’ve got a good web page, and occasionally write a cogent blog post or whitepaper. But this whole exercise is one of marketing/business development, and for a certain segment of attorneys, there’s a belief that law is the one industry that’s excluded from having to dirty its hands with labor of that kind. “Do good work, and the clients will come” (or some self-deluding nonsense like that).

However, there’s a step worse than the inaction that consigns so many attorneys to being non-entities online: outsourcing your reputation.

Yep, it’s a thing: “Reputation Management.” It’s a service that’s problematic out of the gate, as one’s reputation is built by, well, oneself. A sterling reputation comes through traditional inbound marketing techniques like writing, speaking, connecting, and generally showing (not telling) people what a great attorney you are. It’s just kind of weird to outsource that the way you would a TV or newspaper advertising campaign.

There’s also the fact that these outfits engage in a variety of tactics – like writing content pretending to be the business, or its customers – that violate deceptive advertising rules. No business, particularly a legal practice, should aspire to the reputation of being an astroturfer.

Reputation managers may also engage in bluster, and even threats, in an effort to remove unflattering material from the internet. And at its worst, it can look like this: a clueless “ORM” guy, working for a lawyer, calling up other lawyers – lawyers who regularly blog on free speech issues – to make bumptious threats to sue them for writing about his client.

The Streisand Effect will tell you all you need to know about how that tactic worked out.

As New York attorney Eric Turkewitz once memorably put it, “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics.” Attorneys have to carefully watch what the marketers they’ve hired are doing, because the attorney is ultimately responsible to the bar authorities and the public for actions taken on the attorney’s behalf.

Sounds like that goes EXTRA for reputation management people.

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