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Podcast: Moving the Needle with Digital Marketing

by Katie Wolf

on 02 August, 2018

He’s the master of digital marketing for law firms. Now, he’s ready to share a few tips with the Filevine Fireside.

Seth Price is the co-founder of the prestigious Washington DC law firm Price Benowitz. In addition to his legal practice there, he’s the firm’s business backbone. He focuses on getting data insights, strategic growth planning, and searching out the most talented and driven attorneys to join his team.

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Transcript

Katie: SEO. Local search. Online branding. Our guest today is a master of digital marketing for law firms and he’s ready to share a few tips with us. This is The Filevine Fireside. I’m Katie Wolf.

Seth Price is the cofounder of the prestigious Washington D.C. law firm Price-Benowitz. In addition to his legal practice there, he’s the firms’ business backbone. He focuses on getting data insight, strategic growth planning and searching out the most talented and driven attorneys to join his team. Thank you so much for being with us here today, Seth.

Seth: Thank you for having me.

Katie: So, give us a little bit of the groundwork. How did you become an attorney?

Seth: Well, I became an attorney I guess the way most people do by going to law school but my goal was never to spend my career in the courtroom. I loved business but having a father as an attorney and coming out of school in the early nineties when there weren’t a ton of opportunities, I thought to myself this was a good hedge for whatever I wanted to do later in life and follow that path and as a baby lawyer at one of the larger D.C firms but was able to make it to New York for the late nineties during the first dot com bubble and sort of cut my teeth as a founding employee at a company called uslaw.com, which was a precursor to finelawlawyers.com where it was what today seems normal, but then it seemed really cutting edge, having forms online and a legal directory and chatting with a lawyer, these were things that were very cutting edge. When the bubble burst in April of 2000 and sort of the world had changed by 2001, it was time to reassess where I was going and a number of years later, reteamed up with my college law school buddy, Dave Benowitz, we went to U-Penn together and then ended up in the same law school section and even the same law school writing section. He is a great trial lawyer. He was trained at the Public Defender in Washington D.C., just one of the best training grounds in the country, and lives and breathes trial work. We decided from an early point to divide and conquer, that he would focus on the substance, the law, the everyday courtroom piece and I was going to work on the business and operations, make sure the phone rings and making sure that the trains ran on time.

Katie: That seems like a smart strategy. So, you’ve been there in the thick of it of some of the huge changes that have changed. Not only the legal world, but the world in general. What are some of the most significant changes that you’ve seen in terms of technology and the practice of law?

Seth: From my point of view, the thing that was great and the thing that’s allowed us to see growth, I mean we started the two of us in his basement 10 years ago and now have 32 lawyers in Washington D.C, the firm that headquarters in D.C., but with offices in the surrounding locales, the thing that’s been great for us has been the ability to communicate directly with potential clients through digital media. So, my father’s generation, there was no advertising at all and then for a certain generation it was just Yellow Pages. I felt very fortunate to be launching a firm at a time when the web allowed you to communicate directly with potential customers and clients and to be able to differentiate yourself through substance and the thing that I enjoy most is matching great legal talent with great marketing. There were a lot of firms when the web first popped, that would market really well but they didn’t necessarily have great lawyers behind it, and I just love the fact that when I market and when I make the phones ring for our firm, that the lawyers that are handling those cases are some of the best in the region and that it’s very rewarding and I think helps the business model because you’re actually selling something that people really need and want and that goes a long way.

Katie: Before we dive deeper into questions of digital media, which I definitely want to spend most of our time on, just real quickly, what is the work that Price-Benowitz is doing? What areas of law are you focusing on?

Seth: Sure. So, we have personal injury and medical malpractice as well as a very large criminal defense practice, trust, estates, immigration and then some eclectic areas like heat panel whistle blower as well as OFAC. So, as the firm has developed both sometimes from our interest and sometimes from the interest of lawyers who have approached us, we’ve said, “Hey, is this an area that we can develop through online marketing? And is it something that we can bring synergies to an existing practice?” That’s been awesome because there have been times that I have met people. One of my favorite stories is one of our attorney’s that joined us at the firm who I think was making about $50,000 a year his paychecks were in clearing and we were able to take this amazing practitioner who just had a failed business model and really revolutionize his practice and make five to six times what he was making before, you know moments like that really are awesome, especially if you’re having a down day realizing that not only are you making a difference in your clients’ lives but in your family of lawyers that you have working with you.

Katie: So, your firm, it began with you and your partner and now you are managing 32 attorneys. Did you know from the beginning that this would be the trajectory of your firm?

Seth: No, we were just happy to get the firm off the ground. We built the website and all of a sudden, the phones started ringing. We outgrew our first office in two and a half weeks. This was not our master plan but I think it sort of, everything as it made sense, it was like, “Hey, we can add synergies if we do this” and there’s certain things you get with that and I’ve just really enjoyed it. It’s been a fun challenge. Frankly, it was the team that was needed to create this firm was one that I took great pride in but that was sort of an internal cost centered to the firm and that the inspiration for starting Blue Shark Digital was that it was great to be able to turn something that was only a call center into something that was a call center and a profit center so that we could sort of share the load, so to speak, and keep great talent and make sure that money wasn’t a reason that we were losing people and that we were able to create stability because whatever type of marketing you do, long-term stability is a huge factor. Somebody goes on TV for a couple weeks and jumps off probably isn’t going to get ROI. I think the same thing is generally true with digital that the success we’ve had particularly in the organic, the SEO side, has been staying the course, building content, building links, doing fundamental things that have moved the needle.

Katie: So, this is Blue Shark Digital. Do you just want to give us a sound bite definition of what Blue Shark Digital is and what its focus is?

Seth: Sure, so Blue Shark Digital is the expansion of my in-house team, so it is a digital agency that builds websites, optimizes websites, does paid search, organic search, basically everything from soup to nuts when it comes to your website. I basically built it out of necessity. I didn’t see anybody in the market that was doing what was needed to move the needle. Doing great SEO is very labor intensive and takes a great attention to detail and just time on task. If you take the time to build links and to find authoritative opportunities that are genuine and real and if you take the time to build high quality content and structure it in a way that not only can a Google bot determine what’s on your website but the user can have that same great experience of finding what they need in a quick and efficient manner, if you do those different things together, that leads to success.

Katie: Something about that work ethic also echoes some of the things that you’re saying about the need for consistency and sustained presence. You were there during the dot com bubble, like you said, and so you’ve seen some of the failures with things that have a lot of hype and no follow through. Do you have thoughts you’d like to share about how to make growth smart and sustained?

Seth: Well, in two ways. One, online. A lot of it is time consistency, putting in the effort and building the different building blocks that create authority. The world keeps on changing, Google is tweaking things, making paid ads more central, which makes SEO that much more competitive because being at the bottom of the first page doesn’t cut it anymore. You really need to be closer to the top of the first page. That’s on the one hand that if you do something year after year and the first year you triple your unique visitors and the next year you double and then you keep going up, over time that really builds a foundation that can get returns on investment that are very hard to match elsewhere. On the other hand, the questions with the firm, I think putting systems in place, having a business model that makes sure that you keep and retain great labor. On the marketing side, and on the law side, it’s an HR place so for us to be able to deliver great value at Blue Shark, can we keep and retain great talent to consistently roll out what we’re doing? So, I really feel that figuring out what systems can be put in place, what compensation structures can be put in place, what can you do to ensure the most stability because it is that stability over time that allows for the machine, whether it’s the law firm or it’s the digital marketing to grow and expand and that freneticness with lots of turnover is really one of those things that’s detrimental. There’s times when turnover is needed and you’re building from one stage of a business to another and you’re upgrading or improving, but making sure that you have enough there to keep people on the homefront happy so that you can produce results for everybody on the outside and generate sustained growth over time.
Katie: Speaking of digital marketing, I want to get your thoughts on local search and how firms can be successful using that tool.

Seth: Look, I talked about content and lengths and those are the two fundamental building blocks of SEO and while the coding of a website is very important and the structure and page speed and all of that good stuff, local is that fourth component, which is just so incredibly powerful. The three-pack has become infinitely more important as there are now four instead of three ads at the top and that the goal of getting on that map, it’s Google’s giving you that shot and in the early days of SEO, a high-powered California digital marketing team could get a California law firm to show nationally for a term like personal injury. Google has made that next to impossible. They know that if you’re searching in Albuquerque, you’re not looking for a New York personal injury lawyer. So, the algorithm takes into account where somebody is searching from and that the map is infinitely more important today than it even was a few years ago and that the ability to interact with it has become more and more robust. Google, even the last six months, has continuously rolled out new features, whether it be chatting directly with somebody at the law firm, whether it’s being able to put up posts on a weekly basis, whether it’s being able to put a 750-word description, pictures of the inside of your office have been available for a long time. All of these different components are all part of Google My Business and that is the interface which allows you to get into the three-pack, show who you are and while many of the features I just mentioned are not ranking factors today, those combined with the all-important review component, which is a major part of Google My Business, those work together as a conversion factor and my guess is over time could be a ranking factor. Right now, the algorithm combines traditional SEO, the content and links with a separate algorithm dealing with the NAP, the name, address and phone number or citation and that Google is looking for the most relevant local search and they’re continuing to get more granular. It used to be, “Hey, I can be the number one guy in Chicago” and I was good to go but now Google is looking what side of Chicago are you on when you do a search and therefore, it’s harder for the bigger players but it’s easier for some of the smaller players to get a bite of the apple because before three dominant players own the market. Now, you’re able to be in a position where you can somehow get a piece of the market by having an office on the other side of town where other people are not.

Katie: So, you mentioned the power of reviews. Do you also have ideas about managing reviews, especially someone who has perhaps a few less than stellar reviews, how to manage that situation?

Seth: Well, the first thing is, you want to make sure it’s a priority, just like anything else you want to accomplish in life, that your staff knows that they are working to provide great legal services. It’s understood, it’s communicated that the best way to get good reviews is to do great work. If you do great work, good reviews will follow. There are times that even when you do do great work, you may not always receive great reviews. There are irrational players, there are people that are upset that set unrealistic expectations, etc. But I would say making sure everybody is in the same direction. You know, it’s ironic because over the last few weeks, Google has been sort of indicating, “Hey, we’re starting to focus on reviews ourselves.” For many years, there were third party groups, whether it’s Get Five Stars, Podium or many others that would allow you to basically screen your reviews. You could put an email list of former clients and it would send out a screen email saying, “Hey, were you happy with your services?” and only send them a Google link to people that say yes. Some people have that on their website, where they have a landing page, “Hey, were you happy with your services?” If the answer was yes, it would send you for a review. Google is saying, “Hey, no, we don’t want to see this. We don’t want you to filter out the bad reviews,” and so particularly the most interesting thing is the company called Podium, which has an investment from Google Ventures, they have a limited of those gateway pages. I believe Get Five Stars is doing that and the other ones that still have the gateway pages are putting disclaimers that say, “Hey, if you still want to leave a review, you can.” I’m sure it’s in small and less easy to find print. But essentially Google is saying, “Hey, we know the reviews are a very important buying decision now.” Any firm that is ignoring their review process does so at its peril but what you really need to continue to focus on is cultivating raving fans in the form of happy clients because that is the right way to get those reviews but that when you do get bad reviews, and they will happen from time to time for whatever reason, when a bad review happens one of the things I focus on and tell people is, “Hey, there should be a 24-hour rule. Do not do anything in haste.” The first thing you want to say is, “That’s not true! The facts were different.” You know, the client may be talking about their case. But that doesn’t waive attorney client privilege and lawyers who go and try to respond, while it may be what you feel in your heart you want to do, there could be repercussions, not just from the Bar, which if you start revealing attorney client privilege information could put you in hot water, but it’s really hard to control that environment, so I don’t know the magic answer. If you’re getting tons of bad reviews, I think that you may want to look at your business model. But, if it’s limited bad reviews, address them and if you can respond to them online in an understanding way. If there’s a way to solve that person’s problem, that’s the homerun. We live in a glass house and when people are unhappy, my sole goal as a managing partner, is “what will make you happy?” Sometimes they feel if they were wronged by a few dollars and a fee, that’s an easy fix. Sometimes, it’s just to listen. Sometimes, people felt that they didn’t get a listen and if one lawyer works on a case and the managing partner of the firm calls up to give a listen, that can very often deescalate or even remove a bad review in the sense that if their problem is no longer there, then they feel like they’ve been heard and they don’t have the need to leave something out that hurts the firm long term.

Katie: Yeah, I remember reading the story of a property management company who sued one of the residents of the property because she gave a bad review and then not only did they lose the lawsuit they got all of this terrible publicity about suing one of their residents.

Seth: Right. And there are a number of very well documented cases about this where I think it’s the Barbra Streisand effect, where people have made a bigger deal out of something and that deal becomes a much bigger deal. So, you know, one bad review and then two weeks from now you have three happy clients that have reviewed you since, it’s a blip; whereas, if you pick a fight with an active Yelper or you sue somebody and then Yelp gets in on the game, that can really ruin your month and possibly do some long-term damage. I feel that that’s why perspective is needed. Again, lots of bad reviews, the issue is the business model. Single bad review is going to happen and that’s one of the reasons why I encourage people, “Hey, I don’t get a lot of Facebook reviews.” But you know what, you might as well make sure that if you have raving fans and they ask if you want a review on Facebook, you say, “Absolutely,” because when those are there and when a bad review comes over time, you’re able to sort of deal with it in perspective rather than, it’s the only review on a particular program like Facebook or Yelp or something and that if you don’t have any other reviews but that bad review, and those sites are very powerful in the search engines, all of a sudden one of the search results when somebody Googles your firm has a negative factor and you just don’t want that.

Katie: So, do you think about what the next big things are going to be at the same time that you are focusing on this core and on the effort of doing good work, are you also thinking about what’s coming down the pike, what will the future of digital marketing look like?

Seth: There are a lot of things, the review factor and the local obviously, right now that is a major major focus. But on the other hand, we’re seeing voice search coming. It’s coming fast. We are looking very seriously at how people will be asking questions and how those answers will be coming. I use a Pixel in the Droid family and the voice search is so good that I rarely type a query in, that and the fingers don’t allow for it to come out very well but what I have really focused on is trying to give the best answer to the question and that by doing that I believe that as voice search evolves and we may get a direct answer to the question through voice search, the goal is to be there and to give that ideal answer so that the user who is asking the question gets back exactly what they asked.

Katie: What is it that you’re excited about as you continue this work both in marketing and in the legal world?

Seth: For me, what I have loved, is the synergy that we’ve created. As we’ve built these different digital properties for ourselves and now for clients, we’re able to see that the asset that’s built, has continued to grow over time and that we’re able to sort of, and not just for our own firm but for these other firms, watch sort of the base, that they know that there’s an authority in the eyes of Google and now as people visit it, the visitors that come, and what that’s allowed people to do is to pivot. So that if Uber has reduced DUI’s and if self-driving cars at some point reduce motor vehicle accidents, and let’s hope that that happens. It’s not going to be very good for the Plaintiff’s Bar but it will be very good for society. As changes happen, you’re going to be able to see that the authority is there and that law firms that need to build that initial practice area will have the authority and the ability to make that pivot and that’s really exciting.

Katie: I have a question that’s a bit of a backup but I’m just really interested in just knowing this thing, which is, Seth, you imagine 32 attorneys and attorneys are kind of notoriously prickly and difficult to manage. I just want to know, what are your tips or your ideas or your groundwork for being a manager of attorneys?

Seth: I think to a certain extent is knowing your strengths and having a team of people in place to help with that. I’m really fortunate that our COO is somebody who is home grown that’s worked from intake through administration up to the COO world and he’s done a wonderful job of interfacing so that there’s a team beyond myself that’s able to flex and exercise and figure out what’s needed. I think from the quality control point of view, having a culture of escalation, and this is true for Blue Shark as well as for the firm, mistakes are going to happen and issues are going to happen. There’s always something on fire. The problem that I have is when employees don’t raise their hand and don’t push it forward. We had an embarrassing situation where an employee hit send with something long in a rail line to a number of people and it was something that could have easily been corrected had they raised their hand and said, “Hey, a mistake was made. How should I deal with it?” Instead, they said, “Maybe nobody will notice and I’ll try to fix it myself.” But it sadly became worse. And so, the piece that I just, it’s like a broken record, it’s raise your hand. Escalate the problem because we’re set up as a pyramid and if people are able to push their problems north up that pyramid, we’re able to deal with them really effectively.

Katie: Do you do that by creating a culture where that kind of humility is recognized and respected or where people aren’t too harshly judged or punished for admitting to do doing something wrong or making a mistake? How do you create that culture?

Seth: It’s a balance. I’m a New Yorker and when I hear something I very often give an unbridled, unfiltered reaction, which I’m sure can be not an easy one but at the end of the day, it is still so important. I do my very best to catch myself and realize, “Okay, that’s bad news. But that’s the messenger.” Or I need to make sure that that information still gets to me so that we’re able to quickly and effectively take care of it. And that to me is sort of the goal. If I can be out of the office and problems arise and they are cured and I get the phone call later saying, “Hey, this came up. This is what we did with it and this is the resolution.” That to me is the whole one. That’s running a business and that’s what I wake up every day trying to push further and further towards.

Katie: So Seth, you helped found uslaw.com, which was very forward thinking in terms of how technology was changing. The practice of law and access to justice. You’ve talked a bit about how you see technology changing in terms of legal marketing. How do you see it changing the day to day practice of being an attorney or being a person who is seeking access to justice?

Seth: I think the greatest thing for people to see access to justice is it gives them opportunity and choice and the ability to figure out who is right for them in the legal market. And that is something that was just not really possible a number of years ago. From the point of view of practicing law, I think that what’s happening is, is it’s creating a situation where it’s harder to just be a practitioner with exceptions. There are plenty of people that build incredible practices with b to b referrals from other lawyers and there are certain areas of law where that’s the only way to go. In the b to c space, I think that technology has brought it to the point where lawyers either need to be savvy to all of these different elements or at least have a team of people, whether it be in house or whether it be out of house to be able to do the things that are necessary, whether it be marketing, making the phone ring, or whether it be operations and management, that the idea that you’re just a practitioner and there are people that are working around you that it needs to be looked at as a business and not just as some unicorn that practicing law is different from everything else and that you’re going to be fine and okay as long as people like your legal work. It works for many people but more and more technology is allowing others to talk directly to consumers and I think that ignoring that particular b to c space, you do so at your peril.

Katie: Seth, thank you so much for talking with us today. I really appreciate the depths of your experience and your willingness to share your thoughts.

Seth: My pleasure. It was great to be here. Thank you for having me.