New Orleans attorney offers solo and small firms ‘keys’ to better online presence

There is a clear solution for lawyers who want to recruit better clients – improve your online communications strategy.

That’s according to Ernest Svenson, better known in the world of legal blogging as “Ernie the Attorney,” a lawyer based in New Orleans. Svenson brought his experience as a legal blogger to the Indiana State Bar Association Solo and Small Firm Conference over the weekend, offering his advice on how attorneys can improve their online presence to attract their ideal clients.

In Svenson’s experience, he said there is a distinct difference between good and bad online messaging. Bad messaging is often expensive – especially in terms of paid advertisements – and can turn potential customers away with cheesy or cliché slogans, aggressive spam messages and unclear statements about what the firm has to offer.

“Good messaging,” as Svenson described it, connects with clients to reassure them that the firm they are hearing from understands their unique problems. It is simple, clear and direct, with pitches that are empathetic to the needs of potential clients.

In order to make that connection with potential clients, Svenson shared his “Five Keys” to effective messaging with his audience of solo and small firm attorneys.

First, he urged the audience to develop a niche client focus. While some firms may offer legal services in a variety of practice areas, rather than a specific niche as Svenson suggested, he still encouraged the management of those firms to develop a picture of their “dream client” in their minds, then design their online marketing strategies around that client.

Next, Svenson offered very basic advice for effective online communication – developing a website. Though the use of a website may seem basic in today’s legal market, Svenson cautioned the attorneys against underestimating the value of a user-friendly online interface.

To the same end, the attorney stressed the importance of developing a site that portrays a clear message. The clarity of the content should be more important than the look of the site, a sentiment he said most attorneys often get backwards.

Fourth, a law firm’s website should offer something to potential clients who visit the webpage. He gave the example of a free guide, which could include basic information such as how to know when to hire an attorney or how to know if a firm is right for a client’s legal needs.

Finally, when a potential client downloads the free guide, Svenson said the website should be equipped with an email autoresponder that automatically sends at least five follow-up emails to the client. However, Svenson cautioned the attorneys that the follow-up emails should be sent over the course of at least five days, and never all at once.

Aside from his “Five Keys,” Svenson also let the solo and small firm attorneys in on a secret he has discovered that he said leads to greater online success – a phrase he calls the “magic sentence.” The “magic sentence” is not one specific sentence, but rather is a formula for helping attorneys make a connection with a potential client. The sentence can be included in an automated email response, Svenson said, and should roughly follow the pattern of a problem, a service and a resolution.

The problem must be basic yet specific, Svenson said, such as acknowledging that in many child custody cases, one parent will try to disparage the other. Then, the service presents a solution, such as offering to bring the parent’s true nature to light. Finally, the resolution is an idealistic goal, such as helping the parent navigate the child custody case in order to return to a normal relationship with their child.

Using the Five Keys and Magic Sentence, Svenson told the conference attendees their online presence will improve and pique potential customers’ curiosity, thus moving firms closer to their goal of serving their “dream client.”

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