Caveat Emptor & The Benefits of Blogging

April 4, 2010
/ Author: Rick

Caveat emptor is Latin for “Buyer, beware!”  Because of the history behind the phrase, it really means a bit more than that, which is one reason I used the Latin instead of just saying it in English the first time.

It means more in this post, too, because it aims both at lawyers seeking to grow their practices and people in trouble who might read a lawyer’s blog.  Among other things, I want to explain why I blog, what I hope to accomplish with my blog and, maybe, how that can help a few others out there avoid the money-traps set by snake-oil salesmen.

For starters, there’s more than one reason I blog; there’s more than one thing I hope to accomplish.

First off, let’s get one thing clear.  The primary reason I blog is that I can’t not blog.  I’ve been blogging about one thing or another since before it was called blogging; since before there was blogging software.  I maintain several blogs.  I also keep a private journal.  Writing is just something I have to do, the way other people (well, actually, me, too!) have to breathe.

But that’s not the only reason I blog.  I also blog because I’ve learned that it’s a good way for people to learn a little bit about me.  I blog here (i.e., on a law blog) because it gives people a chance to think about what kind of lawyer I might be.  Folks can learn a little bit about my philosophy, my attitude, my approach — and they might get the idea that I know a thing or two about what I’m doing.

That surely couldn’t hurt.

This is where it starts to shade into what I hope to accomplish by blogging.  In a way, what I want to accomplish, while not exactly identical to why I blog, is closely related, like the flip side of the coin, so to speak.  You can’t have heads without tails; while the designs on each side may be different, it’s still one coin.

What I hope primarily to accomplish is to get the monkey off my back.  As I said, I have to write.  Already I chafe at the fact that doing my job, being a criminal defense lawyer in Fresno, California, keeps me from writing as often as I’d like.

I’d also like to engage people — both attorneys and non-attorneys — so that I can learn from their input, although I’ve been somewhat less successful at that. When I’m incredibly lucky, one of my posts will inspire someone else to blog, but I’ve yet to stimulate much discussion on my own blogs the way some of the better bloggers, like Scott Greenfield, do.

Continuing the “other side of the coin” motif, I hope to help others learn, when they’re trying to find a lawyer, whether I seem to be the lawyer for them.  Many people are regular readers of my blog, but most people here find me by googling “Fresno criminal lawyer” or “Fresno criminal attorney,” or some similar phrase.  They’re seeking an attorney to help with a specific problem.

That’s why I — unabashedly — occasionally include phrases in some of my posts, like I did in the last paragraph, that I hope will help people seeking a criminal defense attorney find me.  Because one of the things I hope to accomplish by blogging is to attract potential clients.  It’s not the only thing; it’s not the primary thing; it’s one of the things.  As I said, I’d blog even if that didn’t happen, but I don’t ignore the fact that people coming to my office frequently tell me they found me because of my blog and because after reading a few articles on my blog, I seemed like the kind of attorney they wanted fighting for them.

Something else I should say about the blogging for clients thing: If you blog primarily for clients, you’re less likely to get them.  It’s like the old adage “do what you love, the money will follow.”  If your goal is to get rich, you usually don’t achieve it just by trying to get rich; you do something you can be committed to doing.  Your commitment is what pays off.

This is just another version of the message that Scott Greenfield, Brian Tannebaum, and myriad other blogging and Twitter-using lawyers try to communicate.  Blogging won’t make you a better lawyer.  (There’s an argument that can help you to be a better lawyer, but I’m not going to make it here.  And to the extent it helps, it only does so in a minor way; certainly not enough to justify blogging if being a better lawyer is your only goal.)  Anyone who thinks it will already has more problems than this article is going to fix.

So why did I include “caveat emptor” in the title of this post?  Because — not surprisingly to anyone who knows me — I found inspiration for this article while reading some other blogs.  Jamison Koehler wrote a post about how he was “Disenchanted with Avvo.” And Michael Matlock, writing on The Matlock Blog, wrote a sad commentary on so-called “superlawyers” in his article, “This Is What It Means To Be Super?”

Both articles discuss lawyer advertising.  Koehler does it directly, by talking about how Avvo convinces lawyers to buy its advertising services and what that brings (or doesn’t) in terms of building a practice.  Matlock tells about the proliferation of “awards,” noting that “some, it seems, have become no more than a marketing ploy.”

I, too, have been down that road (well, the first one, anyway: to date I don’ think anyone has tried to give me an award).  The first year I spent lawyering I probably spent half my income on advertising.  I bought yellow pages; I bought radio; I bought flyers to hand out at events.  None of these things brought me clients.  Despite the promises of yellow pages companies, one ad, which cost me $8000, brought me one — yes, one! — phone call the entire year it was out: from someone looking for a job.

Each of the last two years, I’ve begun to learn my lesson and I’ve cut back on advertising.  Today, there are two places left that I advertise and I intend to cancel one of those as soon as the contract expires.

Today, although I didn’t plan it that way, blogging is my primary “paid advertising.”  I pay my hosting company about $250 per year for it.  Even there, it’s not necessarily the number one draw for clients:  It will come as no surprise to Scott, Brian, or any of the others to know that the number one way I get clients is by referral from other clients (past and present).  A close second source is my blogging.

As Michael Matlock’s article makes abundantly clear, advertising does nothing to inform potential clients that the lawyer whose advertising they’re reading is the best lawyer for them.  Nor does the occasional article — even one declaring them to be “superlawyers” — in a newspaper or magazine, or on some lawyer-oriented website like Avvo.  These days, there’s no way of knowing why the website, magazine/newspaper article lauds the attorney; it could just be part of the advertising package, or it could just be because the lawyer has a high-volume, but not necessarily a high-quality, law practice.

A lawyer’s blog can help here.  If you don’t know someone who can provide a good referral, if you don’t know a good lawyer yourself, you can learn a little bit about the attorneys you find on the Internet by reading what they write.  Don’t read one or two articles; read a few.  The more the lawyer has written and the more you read, the more you can learn before choosing a lawyer.  Some law blogs exist only as marketing tools.  If you read enough, you can figure this out.

The bottom line here is this: blogging provides an outlet for lawyers like me who can’t not write about the things we see, the things we believe and how we think things should be.  Thus it also provides a means for potential clients to get to know us; it can separate us from the thousands of other attorneys out there with websites, but no blogs.

Caveat emptor, after all, doesn’t just mean “beware”; it alerts the buyer to check things out before buying.

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  1. Bob Jungman says:

    Nice to see you’re doing well. I saw Kathy today and she said she saw you yesterday and she gave me your card. Nice pic. I don’t read blogs, in fact I don’t even understand them or how they work, but Kathy said to look at yours, and as you know I deal with several attorneys, so, I thought I’d look at it.
    I still don’t understand it but a couple of things you said about getting clients is interesting. Especially as a new attorney, getting referal business. It is interesting to see you on that side of the desk, vs this side. I even smile. I’d like to stop by in a week or so and we can talk.
    The part that really made me smile was your reference to the yellow pages, and that you spent a whole $8,000 for an ad and felt that was a lot. (who are you kidding?) If you are serious, you need to “get into” the game and into Fresno, not just the outlying area…. and base your entire “yellow pages mindset” on that. If I had your ad, I’d make it stand out a bit.
    Interesting, I spent $1000 on a computer and felt that was a lot ….way too much since I can barely read my emails. All it is to me is a fancy typewriter. Still, I need it, If your computer doesn’t work, do you say to your self. That was a waste of money I’ll never have another one of those….. or would you fix it or replace it. I guess the same could be said for a lot of things, that we keep replacing. If you’re happy with your referal base and s l o w l y getting new clients, then it works. Check with the crim attorneys that have big ads, they run large practices and have the bucks to make more bucks and do very well. Yes, there are very successful attorneys that have their name in the “squint print” and some are not even in the book, but that’s the tough way. (I could maybe defend myself too, but that’s the “tough way” too)
    Ernie Kinney once told me, the book works best for criminal attorneys that want more of the unknown clients because that client does not want to ask their friends because they don’t want their friends to know they did something wrong. (like DUI).
    As far as the gangs you represent, they probably don’t have a computer, actually they probally have a garage full of them, but that is best done by word of mouth. When you get one or two off they’ll tell their friends.
    Like your coin analogy there are two sides, actually, marketing is a multi-faceted subject and needs to be looked at from several directions. Flyers, brochures, & radio is an active form of advertising. Just like the newspaper. You are trying to get the person to need you when you advertise. When YOU want it. The phone book and your computer are YOUR employees 24/7. The client goes there with money (or issue) in hand and wants help now. Not, maybe someday I may need this attorney so I ought to look him up and save this flyer for sometime in the future. You may have moved or died by the time that the client needs you. With the phone book, it’s current and always there. Now, if you want the hispanic market, Fresno county is great, if you want the crooks, criminals and thives in Fresno, you need to advertise here in town. Certainly not depend on one outlying area as your whole yellow page marketing experience.
    I guess by reading Carolyn’s response, I went on way too long.
    Great to see you’re doing well.
    If I can help, feel free to give me a call and we can talk.
    Bob Jungman

  2. Rick, I have to disagree. Blogging can make you a better lawyer. When I cover my practice area diligently (which is not often), I find that I am really on top of the cases. The end result is that I can respond to client inquiries more quickly and help them to identify opportunities. When I was blogging at Legal Blogwatch, I was reading a majority of the Supreme Court cases, plus plenty of substantive and academic blogs. I learned to summarize arguments quickly, share the core and take a position (or elicit discussion). These skills have also helped me in my practice. For lawyers who don’t blog, the amount of information shared on blogs is enormous- and I wouldn’t be surprised if this information didn’t help lawyers improve the quality of their arguments.
    I agree with your last 2 paragraphs.

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