Instagram for Attorneys: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

#attorneyawards #lawfirmmarketing #lawyer marketing #legalmarketing Mar 17, 2022
Have a clear plan and goal for your law firm's Instagram page. Create your own brand, don't imitate everyone else

The Good

Social media, and specifically Instagram, can be an extremely powerful business-building tool. It can connect you to people on the other side of the globe, and you can have access to information, experts, and ideas like never before. There has never been so much opportunity available. We can create and grow a business in any area we desire, and we can do it all in the palm of our hand, on our cell phones. I have two rules when it comes to Instagram:

  1. Never "Gram" without a plan: Set goals for your page before you begin to post. Save your time and save your sanity. I cover this in great detail below.

  2. Control the scroll: Create more than you consume. Use Instagram as a tool to grow your business. I only allow myself to scroll at designated times during the day, and I do it intentionally. I only follow pages that inspire me and teach me something new. I let myself feel inspired, and then I create my content. I try not to ever mindlessly scroll just to kill time.

The Bad

The world of attorney Instagram can be exhausting. It seems that everyone is shouting the same message, and it's just a matter of who has more money to shout it louder and more often than others. It's highly competitive, and there is a false sense of "caring." Everyone has a reason for being there. From vendors to doctors to other attorneys, everyone is online trying to find their angle and see how they can benefit from each other. This is fine. This is capitalism at its finest. It can, however, wear you down if you don't have a solid plan in place.

Attorney Awards

The problem with legal marketing is that it's almost always smoke and mirrors. Everyone is full of it. Over the past few years, there has been discussion about how paying for awards like "Top 40 under 40" is a disservice to the industry. I was excited to see attorneys talking about something I have been ranting about for years, but the recent conversation surrounding this topic has fallen short and didn't go deep enough.

How is the "Top 40 Under 40" award different than, let's say, the "Super Lawyer" award? "That's easy," you say. One is bought, and the other isn't. Anyone can get the "Top 40" award, but not everyone can become a Super Lawyer. Based on ten years of observing this industry, I would have to disagree. True, the Super Lawyer award does not directly cost anything, but it does exist solely as a way for Thomson Reuters to make money. This company is 100% dedicated to making money off attorneys. The award means nothing, the process isn't real, and yes, sorry, anyone can get this award.

We all know that you can nominate your friends and people in your own firm. I know dozens of "Super Lawyers" who have never done a single trial and have less experience than many non- "Super Lawyers." I know many great attorneys who have put on more significant trials than almost any other attorney, and they have never been named a "Super Lawyer." This award quickly begins to feel more like a popularity contest and less of a marker of actual skill. Also, those firms that pay to have an online profile with Thomas Reuters and spend money on their services are very much "Super Lawyers" to this company. You catch my drift?

Don't forget, at the end of the day, this award only exists as a way for Thomson Reuters to make money. In that regard, it is no different than any other award attorneys "purchase". To look at this even more closely, let's discuss what happens when you "win" and are named "Super Lawyer." You are emailed many options for expensive online profiles and plaques to put in your office. You can even pay a crazy sum of money to be listed with hundreds of other lawyers in their "Super Lawyers" annual magazine spread. Yawn. Yet, year after year, competent, successful lawyers post this award to their social media accounts and websites and proudly claim that they are "Super Lawyers".

If we look at attorney awards more deeply, aren't they all "fake" and "paid for"? Every single association for lawyers puts on an annual awards event. While we would love to believe that only the "best" attorneys are honored at these galas, most of us know that this isn't the Case.

There are certainly more than 5 attorneys who are making a big impact in the legal industry. Often they are just quietly going about their work and building a different type of law firm.

Is it a coincidence that when you go to an awards event, every person up for an award is also a currently paid sponsor of the event? Is it that these lawyers are the best in the industry or that they sponsor the event, year after year? Are they on the board of the organization? Is this truly about recognizing attorneys shaping the industry and doing great things, or is this more about making money for the organizations? If we are going to shame people who "buy" one type of award, shouldn't we also scrutinize the entire industry and how it deems who is worthy of recognition?

In this industry, you have to pay to play if you want to use specific tactics for marketing. It's up to you to decide if you want to play or not. There is nothing wrong with these associations, and there is nothing wrong with firms that take this route. In fact, this can be a wildly successful way to grow your firm.

How does this relate to Instagram, you ask? Well, this is where it can get bad (and ugly). When attorneys "win" awards then blow up their social media with messages saying how great they are…. this is what does the industry a disservice. This industry is full of hard-working, passionate, insanely intelligent people.

Why are we allowing these meaningless “paid for” illusions of status and success to be the thing we are using our platforms for? Why aren’t we digging in and focusing on the things that actually matter, like how we serve other humans or how we are helping society.

Let's focus on those things, not simply so we can brag about them on our Instagram accounts and not as a "marketing angle". Let's do good things because it's what we're supposed to do, both as attorneys and as humans.  

There are certain people who should consider marketing to other attorneys (by winning all the awards and showing up at all the speaking engagements). Before making this decision, make sure you fully understand what this type of marketing entails. You need to have a plan. If your goal is to become the person who everyone refers cases to, then, yes, this strategy is absolutely one you should do. It will be expensive, and that's fine as long as you can swing it. You will need to be able to afford to have your name everywhere. You will need to sponsor all the significant events, become a speaker at them, and even work your way into being on the board of your local lawyer associations. Your firm will consistently be featured and honored, and you will succeed because people will remember you, talk about you and refer cases to you.

The problem with this approach is that it is exclusive and limited. Unless you are one of a handful of people with the money and resources to become "that person", you are wasting your time, money, and energy. Unless you actually enjoy lots of networking and socializing, this is a terrible marketing plan for you. For us, personally, we aren't big on going out. We spend almost all of our time with our kids, and we like it that way. It's just not our thing. For us, this type of marketing would be excruciating for me (introvert problems). If you love getting out and mingling, consider this approach and figure out how to execute it. Remember, there are limited spots in this arena. If you choose this route, go big and go hard. Strategize, and you will find great success.

The Ugly

I have zero tolerance for tearing other people down to build your own business up. We must never forget that anyone who is brave enough to start their own firm, and anyone passionate enough to care about doing good in this world should never be shamed over a choice they make when it comes to building their brand.

Who are any of us to have an opinion about a lawyer for "buying" a "fake" award. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. If we are going to say that these "fake awards" do a disservice to the legal industry, then we have to look at all of the "fake" and "bought" recognition.

Social Proof

Let's talk about why attorneys even care about all of these controversial awards, or at least, why they should care. In the world of marketing, these awards are called "social proof," and every single law firm should be using them as part of their marketing strategy.

What is social proof? Psychologist Edward Thorndike describes it as "our overall impression of someone." Social proof is the concept that people will follow the actions of the masses. The idea is that since so many other people behave in a certain way, it must be the correct behavior. For lawyers, this means that they believe that if clients see their competitors as Super Lawyers or whatever other awards you put in that place, they are also expected to showcase their own awards. Among their peers, lawyers feel the need to prove that they are as good as everyone else by sharing their "award" victories, even though all of their colleagues know the awards don't really mean anything.

When we use social proof on our websites and social media, we tell potential clients, existing clients, and other attorneys that we are "experts". When someone is an expert, we assume they are probably more knowledgeable than others in their area of specialization.

Social proof is vital to establish authority and create trust between you and a potential client. This is a split-second thing, though. Someone goes to your website, and in a flash, they see your banner with whatever meaningless attorney awards you have posted there. The consumer doesn't know what these things mean, and I think this is where the criticism has come in regarding fake awards.

How is a consumer supposed to know who is truly the best if any attorney can buy any award? As much as you may not like it, this just isn't something you can change or should care about. Look, almost every single award and recognition can be bought for a price. For this reason, consumers see that all attorneys have a bunch of awards. This isn't why a client hires you. Sorry, it just isn't.

The only award I can think of off the top of my head that truly means anything is belonging to ABOTA. This one can't be bought, and you actually have to put trials on to get in. They vet their members. It's legit. Funny enough, if a consumer saw this on your website, they would have no clue what it means, and they would probably think the lawyer with all the other badges has won more "awards". The only way to stop this madness is for attorneys to stop participating in these things, but that simply won't happen.

So let's focus on what truly matters. No one is hiring you because you win awards. Do these things provide social proof? Absolutely. Is this important. Of course. Do potential clients have any idea what the difference is between "Top 40 Under 40" versus belonging to ABOTA? Nope.

Because we built our website so many years ago, I wasn't even sure of what social proof we have on it. When I wrote this post, I went back to look. Yep, we've got some social proof from year one of operating. At that point, Case had just switched from criminal law to personal injury law. He had already done more trials as a public defender than most attorneys do in their career, but we were new to P.I. I built our website for free, and when we got emailed an award, I went for it. Sweet, some social proof for our new firm. It sure didn't feel "fake" to me for Case to be recognized. He took two personal injury cases to trial in his first year and won over 8 million dollars from a jury. Did he deserve social proof for our website? I think so. Did I care what other attorneys thought about that? Nope. The following year he was named a Super Lawyer, and our web team added that along with the Multi-Million Dollar Advocate Forum and some other awards. These things sit at the bottom of our website, where they literally do nothing to help us get potential clients. They show clients that we are an actual law firm with some random awards they know nothing about but that other lawyers also have. Everything else on our website is what lands the client.

So why are some lawyers judge-y about what types of social proof other lawyers are using? Why is it okay for one attorney to add an "AVVO 10 Rating" and "Super Lawyers" badge but then scoff at someone who adds an award they don't deem "real". Why is it okay for lawyers to put out press releases about their own firm and then say they are "featured in the news" but these same attorneys shame what others are doing to build their brands?

It's all part of building a business, and no one is better than anyone else. Let me repeat that.

A lawyer who wins a big verdict is not better than a lawyer who hasn’t won that big verdict. They are simply at different stages in their career. Furthermore, when evaluating the success of ones life there is much more to look at than verdicts. How about their level of happiness, how they treat their loved ones, including their children, what they are doing to give back to humanity? Let’s stop using numbers to judge each other. Let’s stop trying to be “the best” and focus on being happy.

We lift this industry up not by shaming each other but by supporting anyone who is hustling with good intentions. Buying fake reviews or claiming you have experience you don't have are obviously not moral ways to build a business. Is adding a badge for social proof okay when you are an honest and hard-working attorney. Absolutely. Every single lawyer started somewhere. Each person built their firm in their own way. I can tell you this, lots of them would NEVER share how they truly got to where they are today.

It is in no way ok to shame other attorneys on your Instagram or on Facebook groups. This isn’t high school. Cryptic posts, making fun of lawyers who are trying to chase their dreams, it’s just mean spirited and doesn’t serve anyone. There are no “real” lawyers or “fake” lawyers. We each have a platform that can be used for good. Instead of building yourself up by tearing other people down, use your words to encourage, inspire and educate.

It's especially hard to watch when the shaming is coming from established lawyers who likely did the same thing when starting out. But, even if they didn't…. do we really need to shame others? Anyone who dares to go out on their own and who has the determination and mindset to hustle and grind should be applauded.

Social Proof That Actually Matters to Potential Clients

You can have 100 awards on your website, but if consumers don't feel connected to you in some way, they won't hire you. This is a more extensive marketing conversation covered in past blogs and will be continued in upcoming blogs and podcasts. Client testimonials (ugh, many attorneys buy fake reviews too… don't get me started on that one) and real case results are far more important than any award you share on your website.

Awards mean more to other attorneys than to consumers, even though all attorneys know the awards really mean nothing.

It's an odd phenomenon when you really think about it. Awards you share on your sites will act as instant social proof and open the door to you, earning a potential client's trust. All the other messaging on your site will be what really closes the deal, though.

This industry starts to feel ugly when it becomes devoid of humanity. When did it become normal to constantly talk about how great we are? Always saying we "win the most" or are the best. Maybe it's because I'm raising young children, and I'm constantly talking about how we speak to others, but it feels like we missed the mark here. It's great to be passionate and proud of what you do but isn't there a better way to share ourselves with the world?

Do we ever tire of seeing each other’s pages and reading the same message? How can we all be the greatest attorney to ever exist in the history of humanity? Surely we have more to say about ourselves? There is more to us, after all, than work. Right? I hope?

Lawyers Who Copy Other Lawyers and Steal Their Marketing

What’s up with all of the copying that goes on in this industry. I have had entire pages of text I wrote, lifted off our website and used on another firm’s page. They literally stole my words and used them as their own. This is a firm that we know personally and they spend millions of dollars a year on marketing, yet their “marketing director” stole my words. This same firm downloaded our free legal guides, using their work email address, and passed them off as their own.

This industry is notorious for looking at what everyone else is doing and then “re-purposing” it. I blame this, not on the attorneys, but on the established traditions of the industry.

It feels scary to be human, to be vulnerable and to be real in this industry. Rightly so. How do you walk the line between being human and being feared in the courtroom? Attorneys feel like they can’t step out of line because it will damage their “reputation”.

This can leave the industry soulless. Are you worried about being true to yourself but losing clients because you don’t appeal to everyone? Do you feel like you have to present yourself as a workaholic who cares about nothing more than winning in order for clients to think they should hire you? These are all bigger conversations that we will discuss in upcoming podcasts and blog posts.

Spoiler alert: when you are true to yourself you will lose some clients. What will you gain? A happy life, full of purpose and meaning. You will attract the type of client you want to work with and you will repel those who drain the life out of you. If you truly are a workaholic, more power to you. You will be the go-to attorney for those who wan aggressive and passionate representation. You’ve got to go with the personality you were born with here.

You can only fight off who you truly are for so long before you fall down in a defeated slump. You were put here in this body, with this passion, with this soul, for a reason. Don’t let that slip away because you’re scared of being different.

Over the years I’ve watched this industry with mixed emotions. Maybe it’s because I come from a background in fine art where no one would be caught dead stealing someone else’s work. Artists live to create their own style and are always striving to be the first one to do something. They may be inspired by other people’s work but they would never just take it and use it as their own.

I personally know hundreds of lawyers and all of them (okay almost all of them :0) are great people. They have amazing messages to share with the world but they aren’t doing it. They are scared to tell people that they are human. When we can get to this place…

…when attorneys feel free to be themselves, this is when the industry will be elevated to greatness. Let us stop copying each other. Let us dig deep and see what our own unique gifts and passions are. Then let’s share those with the world. We can teach each other so much.

How Lawyers Can Use Instagram In A Different Way

Our law firm has never had a plan for social media until a few weeks ago. I think we had about 14 posts over 5 years. All of our cases are word of mouth. We don’t spend money on law firm advertising and we were pretty much operating “off the grid”. We have built an 8 figure law firm this way. We built our firm quietly and have been traveling, homeschooling and living our life for the past 6 years. We have been totally focused on our little corner of this industry and it has brought us great clients and much happiness.

So why did we decide to get active on the gram?

We decided to be very intentional with our plan for the Case Barnett Law Instagram page. We are building multiple businesses and have carefully chosen where our time and resources will go. The law firm Instagram page is not one of the places we want to spend much of our time.

We decided to use our Instagram page as a sort of online portfolio for potential clients. Websites are confusing and often have too much information. Because we focus on word of mouth marketing, we don’t mess around with SEO or really pay attention to our website. I am not saying that your website isn’t important or that doing pay-per-click isn’t good. This is just a preference and it’s something you have to decide for yourself. For us, our time and money is spent better in other areas. Unless you are going to be able to compete with the firms spending millions of dollars each year in this arena, it may be good to steer clear. I will be writing an entire blog post on attorney websites soon.

We’re building out our law firm IG as a place to refer new clients and existing clients. Pretty unheard of… for now… I’m sure lots of you will dig this idea since it’s way less time consuming (and more enjoyable) but extremely beneficial. In this approach, we are using IG, not to get new clients, but simply to connect with our current clients.

We’re working on filming a series of FAQ highlights along with some other things for our existing clients. This will be beneficial for both our clients and for us. The client can go to our page and find all the information they will need to understand our process. On our end, we won’t have to answer the same questions over and over again, we can just direct people to either our IG page or our website.

Additionally, clients will remain our “friends” long after we stop working together and this will help us stay in front of them and continue our relationship. This will fulfill our mission of staying connected with past clients which I discussed in this blog post.

Don’t copy other people’s content. Don’t steal every single idea you see others executing. Just be cool. Don’t be uncool.

What should you include on a Portfoliogram? I’m trademarking that name here… I like it…. “Portfoliogram”. You heard it here first! Your page should be a mix of all the things that matter to you. For the love of the gavel, please don’t copy each other and don’t copy me damnit. Everyone can include a mix of client reviews and wins (settlements and verdicts). Everyone can highlight their team. If you work with a charity, share that. If you have a unique hobby or passion, share that. If you want to share your family life, share that. What is your reason for being a lawyer? What life experiences led you to this career? Share that. For us, we are focusing on wellness and healing. This came from a deeply personal experience our family went through and we think it will help our clients. I am going to school to become certified in integrative medicine and will share that information with our clients. I was also a photography major in college and we travel often.

Because these are our passions I will be sharing those things to our page. This isn’t a “marketing” angle. This is us.

Don’t steal other people’s messaging. Don’t borrow their passions. It’s not cool. Just be cool. The only way this works, for you and, for the entire legal industry, is if you are honest about your own journey. Share that. That is how you will help yourself, your career, your industry and make a positive impact in this life of yours.

There Is Another Way

Do good work. Make the world a better place. Follow your heart. Live your life.

Were you put on this planet to work 24/7? Are human beings built to grind their entire lives or are we built to connect deeply to ourselves and others? How can you create a life of meaning while also enjoying the moments along the way?

I gave my son a haircut yesterday and was absolutely floored by how old he has gotten. He will be seven on his next birthday and seemingly overnight he went from being a chubby little guy to a legit boy. You know what is absolutely a thousand percent clear to us? We were not meant to miss out on our children’s lives. We are more passionate about our work than is probably normal but we are also totally and completely obsessed with our kids. Striking a balance between the two is a constant and delicate dance but it can be done. How have we done this? By shutting out all the voices and noises around us. We do what we want to do the way we want to do it. We use core values in both our law firm and our family. If something doesn’t fit to our core values, we don’t do it. This one thing has simplified our lives in unimaginable ways.


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