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Commentary: Can Avvo Answers help you get more clients?

Jane Pribek

Jane Pribek

As attorneys and counselors-at-law, you answer questions all day long for paying clients. But have you ever considered answering questions on the Web as a means of obtaining more paying clients?

Some attorneys have had success using Avvo Answers, a free legal advice forum for consumers.

Avvo says it’s “the world’s largest legal directory.” You likely received an e-mail from the company well over a year ago, asking you to claim your free online profile. I talked to a few lawyers last summer who’d done so, and they by and large liked the service — although one attorney was not wild about the customer service when he complained about a negative review written by someone who wasn’t a former client.

Now some lawyers are finding that answering questions on Avvo Answers can lead to new clients.

Elkhorn Attorney Karyn T. Missimer, a solo concentrating in criminal defense, OWI and family law, devotes as much as one hour per day to answering Avvo questions. She says she likes to do this over lunch or breaks from paying clients — it’s a productive, somewhat enjoyable use of downtime.

Avvo e-mails her Wisconsin-centric criminal defense and family law questions as they come in, usually daily. Because she posts answers frequently (she has answered 683 since last July), and because they are sometimes labeled as “helpful” by the person asking the question, she’s been given a “Level 7 Contributor” label. That’s on a scale of 1 to 10, so she’s pleased with that for now.

Missimer says that Avvo Answers has increased the number of visits to her Web site.

“I’m my own Web master, for now, and I use Google Analytics to keep track of the hits on my Web site,” she says. “I’ve found that, when I go through periods of time without answering many questions, the hits on my Web site go down.”

In addition, she estimates she gets about one new client per month that she can directly trace to an answer to a question posted on Avvo.

Eric T. Raskopf, of Eric T. Raskopf Attorney at Law in Oconomowoc, also answers an occasional Avvo question, though not nearly as frequently as Missimer. While he cannot say that a new client has told him, “I hired you because you answered a question on Avvo,” a sizeable number have said, “I found you on Avvo.”

Raskopf says he takes the time to answer an occasional question because he sees it as an opportunity to communicate his legal acumen, and it’s also a valuable public service. In addition, he believes it’s another way to increase his page rank in Google and other search engines.

But he also uses the questions he gets on Avvo to generate topic ideas for his blog, making the minimal time invested — 10 minutes per week — even better spent.

Tread carefully

Within just the past week, William A. Swendson II, of Swendson/Menting Law Ltd in Oconomowoc, says he can directly trace prospective clients to questions he answered on Avvo.

But he emphasizes that you need to be careful not to inadvertently create an attorney-client relationship with your answers. To prevent that, in every answer he gives this disclaimer:

“Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. You are strongly advised to contact an attorney to obtain legal advice before taking or refraining from taking any action with respect to the above.”

Swendson notes that to get that follow-up call, you need to give quality answers. If you take the time to read some of the answers other lawyers have written, you’ll notice that some merely sell themselves without even really answering the question. It’s important to answer the question.

Moreover, he’s seen responses that begin with phrases like, “I’ve been doing this kind of work everyday for x years…” To Swendson, that’s a little off-putting. It’s better to impress the reader with your legal analysis than to boast about long you’ve been practicing in a particular area.

Finally, if you’re not an Avvo fan, there are other sites. Milwaukee lawyer Jeffrey W. Jensen of Jeffrey W. Jensen Law Office says he occasionally responds to questions on LinkedIn and Yahoo! Answers, as part of his overall Web-focused marketing plan.

He says it’s worked for him — plus it’s much cheaper than the Yellow Pages, an old-school option he believes is going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, about three years ago, he stopped advertising in the book altogether and has seen no appreciable decline in business.

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