When You Are What Google Says You Are

On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

Last week I learned that my friend Charlie Thomas was throwing in the towel after 11 years of practice. Charlie was my co-counsel in the Bellwether Trial, and I can say from first hand experience that he is a good lawyer (not just “We chat on Twitter, so I say nice things about him.”) Charlie also has a great sense of humor, and often offers “free legal advice” that include tidbits like “Don’t steal stuff” or “Don’t show up to court high when you’re being brought up on drug charges.” His sardonic anecdotes of criminal law practice always make me laugh.

So why would a good, experienced trial lawyer like Charlie get out of practice? No clients, apparently. Despite what you may have read on Solo Practice University, solo practice is hard. Real hard. Not everyone makes it. There are only so many paying clients, and lawyers to serve them.

But why would someone as good as Charlie not have any clients? He explained:

Most of that reflection was focused on fixing the marketing problem. All my eggs were in a single basket — and not one that I owned myself. When Google changed their algorithm and sent me off the first page and down to page four, my phone stopped ringing.

This is one of the reason bloggers like Greenfield and Tannebaum advise against a “Google-based” reputation, and instead suggest lawyers focus on developing  competence, strong relationships with real people, and a reputation for excellence among your peers.

Despite what you may have heard on the internet, the future of law isn’t manufacturing a Google based reputation, and it never will be. Because if your reputation is based on Google, you are what Google says you are. And if Google says you’re on page four, apparently you’re nobody. Even if you’re a good, experienced trial lawyer.

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10 Responses to When You Are What Google Says You Are

  1. Charlie is not alone. There are tens of thosands of small niche businesses that have suffered at the “exact match domain” penalty.
    Maybe we could present a class action?

    • Ha!

      I think for professional services, lawyers should focus on building competence and a reputation for excellence. Then Google doesn’t really matter.

      Now, if you’re selling leather bags, I could see how Google is an important part of your business.

      That said, I went with Saddleback Leather based on scores of their reviews, testimonials, and my partner’s leather satchel. My briefcase purchase was based on reputation, not the first thing that I Googled.

      • T. Patrick Henry says:

        Jordan, sometimes it takes time to build up that reputation. It sounds like Charlie got addicted. He was addicted to the leads provided by Google. Charlie was so use to getting his leads from Google that there was no incentive for him to look elsewhere until it was too late.

      • Call me old fashioned, but we’ve never used Google or SEO to get clients.

        We don’t look for “leads” either. People call us when they have a problem and need a lawyer to help them fix it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Maybe too many lawyers in Philadelphia, not enough out here in Central Pennsylvania.

  3. that anonymous coward says:

    And here I thought the real answer was having interesting characters posting on your blog. :D

    Google can only do so much for anyone, and well it can be undone easily.
    How long was the first google hit for failure a president?
    Google can and will be gamed, or did you miss all of the SEO pitches of varying quality you get in your inbox daily?
    Google is merely a tool, like a gun. (stop stop stop not gun ranting moment)
    You can use a gun to take a life, or save a life. But that tool has limited your options if its the only tool you use.
    something something have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    I am not ‘famous’ (for wildly obtuse definitions of famous) because of my Google hits, but because I am focused on the work I do. My reputation is strong enough in certain circles people seek me out, not because I am paying for a keywords ad, but because I care about what I do. I am taken seriously on a growing number of topics because I put the time and effort in.
    Jordan and I disagree, bunches is a fair assessment, on some topics. On other topics we agree, (there are like 3 of those right Jordan?). The point is the crazy man with the Guy Fawkes avatar is actually taken seriously by a lawyer(s), some reporters, some bloggers, etc. because I expend effort on what motivates me.
    People find me without Google, so there are other ways.
    Find them.

  4. Charlie says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Jordan.

    It is a dog eat dog business, and I was competing both against my friends and against free (in the form of public defender and court appointed counsel).

    The problem, however, with developing a professional reputation that isn’t Google based is that it requires a set of skills that not everyone is good at. I used to go to bar association events and spent more time chatting with the caterers than with other lawyers. For what it’s worth, I never remembered a single thing about them, as I am terrible with names and personal details. I would remind you that I knew both you and Leo online for ages before we ever met face to face.

    Ultimately, though, I am not getting out because my marketing has been screwed up (though it certainly makes the change easier — if my phone was still ringing 100 times a month, I’d still be doing it, simply because I wouldn’t have time to think about self-care). I am getting out because the practice hasn’t made me happy for a couple years now. I am not the same guy I was when I went to law school, or even a few years ago. My interests lie elsewhere now.

    And don’t worry, you’ll get my referrals. :-)

  5. noahkovacs3k says:

    I have seen a lot of solo practices closing recently and it is truly sad to see them go. I know with the changing times that it is hard to make a go of it but it is still really sad.

  6. hi Charlie !!
    good job done by you, its not an easy to do the same things like you, really appreciate by heart. thanks a ton to share it with us…

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