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Commentary: Online search for Wisconsin law firms reveals ranking issues

I recently conducted a simple Google search for "Wisconsin Law Firms.” Only Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. (Milwaukee) and Axley Brynelson, LLP (Madison) appeared on page one. The No. 1 spot was occupied by FindLaw.com, which lists Wisconsin attorneys by location within the state. Ranked No. 3 is HG.org, which lists attorneys by Wisconsin city and practice focus. The rest of page one is filled with aggregate attorney listings.

Some (especially corporate firms) might consider these listings mere web clutter. That may be true, but firms not ranked on page one must work smarter and more diligently to rise above that clutter.

While all of the noteworthy firms in Wisconsin have web sites, many of the most recognized firm names don’t appear until after page five on Google. (I stopped looking at that point.) The reasons why these notable firms lack Google rank status might be traced back to statements like, “we build business on relationships and therefore don’t want to attract the type of clients surfing the web.” But relationships from love (match.com) to lawyering are starting online. If you are not out there and on top, you are losing ground.

A simple review of Avvo.com’s most popular legal blogs reveals online resources exist for all aspects of the law, from China to intellectual property. No surprise there. But the popularity of these blogs and sites like LegalZoom.com smacks of the commoditization of the profession. Commodity status of legal services is probably even more likely in Wisconsin, where most everyone embraces frugality. But this means the profession and its ability to maintain profit margins is in jeopardy of value erosion. Unless more traditional practices and firms enhance their online status to rise above the din, they risk being drowned out of the conversation.

How you leverage your practice’s online marketing presence will impact whether or not you are considered for prospective business. How you position your firm online will determine what types of queries you receive. And whatever you think of Avvo.com’s most popular legal blogs and their degrees of credibility, the fact remains that online aggregators, attorney rankings and peer-review sites are being accessed in large numbers by people seeking legal advice and/or insight.

The No. 1 blog, Above the Law: A Legal Tabloid, reveals an appetite for the legal underbelly. Rumors, reputation and brand must be managed online to ensure the viral nature of this medium works to your advantage.

The No. 6 blog, IP Watchdog.com, offers advertisements for “bullet-proof” patent applications and a virtual vault of material for inventors. Maligned actress Lindsay Lohan’s dispute over famed ETrade Superbowl TV spots using what Lohan claims is her likeness in the “Milk-a-What!?” baby even makes an appearance on right-to-publicity grounds.

The No. 11 blog, Bankruptcy Law Network, compiles legal insight from claimed top-rate lawyers. David Leibowitz, who’s LakeLaw Bankruptcy Center practices in Wisconsin and Illinois, appears to leverage his online rating with Avvo to secure coverage in BusinessWeek, Fox Business and others seeking comment on mortgage and business law.

The No. 34 blog, Startup Company Lawyer, provides small- to mid-sized business owners, which make up the majority of Wisconsin companies, with a lot of information at no cost.

The No. 98 blog, Undercover Lawyer: What Your Boss Does Not Want To You Know, shows the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ hand to employment lawyers representing companies.

The No. 321 blog, Employee Rights Wisconsin, carves out a presence for Peterson, Berk & Cross within a given geography and specialty.

Note that of the hundreds of sites listed, only one had the word Wisconsin in its title.

Karl Robe, APR, counsels attorneys and executives on communications strategies that support achievement of growth objectives and overcome business challenges. Contact him at Karl James & Company LLC by emailing karl.robe@karljames.com.

One comment

  1. Thanks to Karl Robe for noticing my blogs at http://www.bankruptcylawnetwork.com. I certainly appreciate Avvo’s rating. Who wouldn’t? However, my contributions to Norton’s Annual Survey of Bankruptcy Law as well as my leadership in the area for the Wisconsin Bar and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Administration might also have something to do with my web visibility. See these links on the State Bar website; http://tinyurl.com/yhv6mqk and http://tinyurl.com/yermrvy. Google algorithms also have observed my participation at several Federal Reserve conferences in Wisconsin on mortgage foreclosure:: http://tinyurl.com/ycskwyt, not to mention speaking engagements on mortgage at the Milwaukee Bar and the State Bar convention and an invitation to testify on the subject before the Wisconsin Assembly back in February 2009 and still visible on the web at Wisconsin Eye.

    I could go on. But my point is that I have been noticed on the web not because of Avvo but because I have done things as an attorney which have merited recognition. And so I would like offer everyone the opportunity to do things to enhance the legal community and potential clients so that they too will be recognized on the web, which after all, is a reflection of the community.

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