Advice to Young Lawyers: Do NOT Let Some Vendor Own Your Identity

It’s bad enough that we attorneys have to use vendors to supply our needs like everyone else in business. Good business judgment encourages economization and a careful eye on the effective rate of return from expenditures, including supplies, utilities, equipment, fixtures, inventory (not that that’s much of an issue in 99% of law offices) and services including marketing. To this extent, the practice of law is a bona fide business.

The real problem, however, with allowing vendors to get leverage over your marketing presence goes beyond mere costs. We as attorneys cannot afford to surrender the professional independence of our judgment on how to practice.

I have seen attorney after attorney fail to think three steps ahead. It’s a serious mistake to allow some internet marketing company (disclosure: I use a couple of the least obnoxious ones for limited purposes) to control your identity online. It’s a serious mistake to allow some landlord to own your outward-facing phone line.

If you want to get a phone number, go to voicenation.com and get a forwarding number for $10.00 a month. Don’t let the office suite, internet marketing hack or any such materially interested vendor get control of your phone. Forward that phone to a phone that has no identity or whose number you unambiguously control (cell phone, whatever.) It’s fine if the office suite or landlord will provide you a desk phone number – great. But you are not only a fool but a damn fool if you allow them to own your outward facing number.

Similarly, if you want to have an online presence, go buy the domain name(s) that you want and maybe even buy hosting before you talk with any of the internet marketing mafia. I use ICDSoft.com; they have been down, to my knowledge, for a total of 24 hours in the last 7 years. Don’t let the internet marketing mafia get away with murder by offering to “let you have” 15 pages on your site and charge you hundreds of dollars per month in rent for additional pages. A page is a one-shot draft job in most cases; charging you monthly rent on your site is like charging your client $75.00/month for the rest of his life on a divorce decree, on the grounds that it’s still in the courthouse, still effective and the client is still divorced. 115 pages costs minimally more than 15 pages.

Consider doing your website yourself. While that’s a big task (I know, I installed and designed every wart and scar on this site), it’s not fundamentally different from typing your own letters which most attorneys do from time to time and some always do. My hosting with ICDSoft costs $6.50/month for more bandwidth and storage than I can use. Ask yourself whether years of commission are morally fair to the sales reps for the high-priced monthly charges for the web pages that took minimal effort to augment. Even if you do use the web design services more extensively, ask yourself whether it is reasonable to allow an outside non-attorney corporation to own your professional image – not just to service it for fee like an honest for-profit plumber, but to hand them “Fee Simple Absolute” in exchange for their sales hack claims of effectiveness.

Nobody owns Bruce Godfrey, and only Bruce Godfrey owns www.brucegodfrey.com. I use lawyers.com and avvo.com as flat-footed advertising media, but note well that I am absolutely happy to tell both of those companies to take their services elsewhere on a moment’s notice. They don’t get the chance to have a “seat at the table”, to quote the severely unfortunate phrase of the “Legal Marketing Association” because it’s not their goddamn table. Seven women and men in red robes didn’t issue Lexis Nexis or Avvo’s Mark Britton a Maryland law license; these corporations are plumbers, not roommates or family.

You know what’s better than the coolest blog post or social media gimmickry? Doing something actually useful and (to the extent permitted by ethical strictures) discussing its real-life usefulness online (paraphrasing Hugh MacLeod of the Gaping Void). Knowledge and deeds – those no vendor can revoke if you stop paying their Danegeld.

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