Participation in online community discussion can be a beneficial activity for lawyers. Contributing to message board discussions is an effective and manageable expertise marketing tool, a way to stay in touch with the legal needs of the public, and a form of reputation management.
FindLaw.com offers legal professionals a wealth of free opportunities to engage in community discussions in many popular practice areas, such as:
- Family Law
- Criminal Law
- Consumer Issues
- Bankruptcy Debt and Taxes
- Real Estate and Landlord-Tenant
- Wills Trusts and Estates
- Traffic Violations
- Injuries Accidents and Torts
- Small Business
In legal marketing, the term "expertise marketing" generally refers to activities undertaken by a lawyer that shows him/her to be an expert in a particular area of law. Participating on a FindLaw community discussion board can help position a lawyer as a trusted resource for a particular area of law.
Common examples of expertise marketing activities include: 1) Writing a byline article about a new legal development for a publication, such as FindLaw's Law Firm Business Center or Legal Technology Center; and 2) Publishing a legal blog.
While these two examples are effective, both are fairly time consuming and may not complement an overly-busy schedule. In comparison, the time required to participate in an online discussion is minimal. Responding to a posted discussion topic can take as little as five minutes and can include links to helpful resources such as information on a lawyer's website.
Also, commenting on discussion boards can actually sharpen and strengthen a lawyer's skills. Responding to questions and comments that involve novel situations can force attorneys to flex their powers of reason and analysis.
Participating in community discussions can also be viewed as a form of professional reputation management. Reputation management is a broad term that refers to tracking, reporting on and reacting to one's actions and others' opinions about those about those actions. Lawyers who contribute to discussions are able to obtain direct feedback on the community's reaction to their posts, and respond to the feedback.
This type of information may be helpful to the lawyer in a number of ways. In very basic terms, an overly positive or negative community-reaction to a lawyer's contribution would signal the need to pay attention to the subject matter of the post. Why was it considered offensive? Why was it appreciated? How might future contributions elicit similar or different community reactions?
Before participating in community boards, it is important to review your State Bar's ethics rules regarding attorney advertising.
Lawyers should also review FindLaw's community guidelines about posting.
In general, lawyers should stay away from providing specific legal advice in community discussions. The information provided should lean more toward providing general, 1L information about the discussion topic. Post answers to questions about which you have some knowledge, but don't ask for too many specifics from the questioner, as you may inadvertently create an attorney-client relationship.
Some may question the value of answering questions from a person who resides outside the state of your practice. The opposite is true -- by providing general non-state-specific answers to community members, you stay within the ethics rules against providing issue-specific legal advice. Any advice that reaches across jurisdictions should come with the caveat that the lawyer is not admitted to practice in the questioner's state, if that is the case. This should avoid the unauthorized practice of law issue.
Getting started is simple. First, complete the free FindLaw registration. An email address is required. Also, think about a screen name, as it will be displayed to others in the community.
Once you've finished registering, you're ready to participate. Browse FindLaw's discussion forums and select one or more areas of interest.
Have fun, and remember that a few minutes spent each week participating in online community discussion boards can be a beneficial expertise marketing activity.