A pioneer of the legal blogging world, Ernest Svenson, a.k.a. Ernie the Attorney, helps attorneys understand and use technology to support their practice at Law Firm Autopilot. Ernie spoke with LexBlog’s CEO, Kevin O’Keefe, at Clio Cloud Conference 2017 about what he’s learned from years of approaching legal marketing differently.
Kevin: I’m standing with Ernie the Attorney. Ernest Svenson from New Orleans. Thank you very much.
Ernie: Aw, thanks for having me it’s great to see you, as always.
Kevin: So we were sitting here talking on behalf of bloggers, but this is one of the guys that had a blog. What year?
Ernie: I started in 2002, March of 2002.
Kevin: Yeah, we also know the day. I started November of 2003. So you were a pioneer of me in 2002. You had a blog called Ernie the Attorney.
Ernie: Yes. I did.
Kevin: What gave you the idea to turn this thing on so you’re live on the internet as Ernie the Attorney?
Ernie: I barely knew it was going to be live on the internet so I wasn’t really prepared for what happened next. I was experimenting with software. I figured out that the only way for me to learn how to use something or to learn whether it was useful to use was to use it. Right?
Ernie: Instead of having somebody explain it to me. So somebody showed me this stuff called blog software. Actually, a fellow named Buzz Bruggeman. If you know Buzz.
Ernie: He came in New Orleans and he said, “Hey there’s this thing called a blog.” I took him around New Orleans and he wrote a blog post and he linked to some various places in New Orleans. One of which I didn’t even know they had a website. I was like, “Holy cow, this web thing is really taking off. Maybe I should get on … Check this out.” So I just created this blog and I called it Ernie the Attorney because that’s what somebody called me. It got attention because people were like, “Woah, an attorney is on the internet.” None of it stopped … You know …
Kevin: Because you were practicing law?
Ernie: Yes. I was practicing law.
Kevin: In a good, a decent sized law firm.
Ernie: In a large firm. I was totally underground… They had no idea what was going on in my office. They thought I was working on interrogatories.
Kevin: This guy’s broadcasting.
Ernie: If they had seen the smile on my face they would have known I wasn’t working on interrogatories. But, yeah.
Kevin: What did the blog do for you? What happened.
Ernie: Oh man. Everything! Like you know, it changed my life.
Ernie: Why? Well because for starters, I didn’t like marketing. In the firm, of course, they would tell you, “You need to get clients. Not right away, but soon would be good.” And you ow you’re a partner and then they are you know, like, “Now even sooner would be better.” But they don’t teach you how to market. What they tell you is you have to go to a lot of networking events, meet a lot of people, and shake their hands. And just do this repeatedly and eventually, somehow you will get business. And I thought, “I don’t know. It doesn’t really seem to work.” So I didn’t care about marketing. So when I started this blog, all of a sudden people would contact me and say, “Hey man, you seem like a really cool attorney. I’d like to hire you.” I’d say, “Well that’s going to be a problem because, number one, I’m not in your state. So I’m not licensed to help you where you are. And number two, I cost a lot of money in a big firm that has massive overhead.”
So when I decided to go on my own, what gave me the courage to do it was I realized … Well first, I knew I could solve the tax part of it. But the most important question is where are you going to get clients from? I was like, “Well gee, people have been pestering me to hire me.” I thought, “Okay, if I lower my rates and I just take on the clients I want to and practice the way I want to, this could actually work and I could be happier.” And it did!
Kevin: And you can get … I mean it’s not like your getting the clients you would hate to have. You’re getting the clients because they like you.
Ernie: Only the clients that you like! You see this is the other part. It’s like, they like me for who I am. I like them for who they are. And it all worked out. Whereas with corporate clients, a lot of them frankly, were people I didn’t really like. They were unsavory. They had money and that was the main criteria. But that was not my criteria.
Kevin: What’s interesting, and I tell people that, is that when you blog somehow you build an intimate relationship, or they build an intimate relationship with you, even though you don’t know who they are and you haven’t communicated with them before. So by the time that you might come in contact with them by phone, in person, whatever, email, you like each other. It’s very strange. So they come in, you’re sitting down, you’re going, “I’d like to have you as a client.” It might be a business person. It could be a house consultant. It doesn’t matter. It’s a very weird thing.
Ernie: I’ve learned a lot about marketing, how it’s actually supposed to be done now. Still, weirdly, a lot of people don’t know how to do it. It boils down to one thing, especially for lawyers, if people trust you, they will hire you. If they trust you, they will tell you all the stuff they need to tell you so you can actually do a good job representing them. If they like you, they will trust you. If they trust you a lot, it’s all good. So, it’s just getting people to like and trust you.
Now, I didn’t know, nor did anybody in my big firm know, that those people could run off to meet all these people at these events. That’s not going to build trust. But if you have this website, where you just talk about stuff and who you are, then the people who like you for who you are will like you and then trust you and be easy to work with and it will all work out. There’s enough of them on the internet that you’ll never run out of a supply of these people. The trick is just to get more of them to know about you. The rest takes care of itself.
Kevin: Yeah. And there are different philosophies to the whole thing. People will come up and say, “What should I do? How should I do it?” And whatever. Everybody’s different. So I tell them what you just said, it’s trust. If they’re trusting you because you’ve developed some niche expertise, that’s one manner of trust. If it’s trusting because you’ve shared experiences with your family or movies or eating and then an issue in the law, that’s okay too. Facebook has that same effect. People don’t realize that you can get on there and be a likable person and it actually works.
I asked yesterday a room full of people, there were a lot of people, “How many of you use Facebook for personal and mixed professional?” None. I was like, do you have brain damage? What is going on? People come to you because you’re personal, not necessarily because you say, “I have this professional thing over here and once in a while I’ll share professional over in the personal, but not very much.”
Ernie: No, see the thing is-
Kevin: You’re one person.
Ernie: So the thing that I’ve learned, and again I’m going to keep it simple. It actually is simple. Number one, they need to know as an attorney that you know the stuff you need to know to represent them. That’s your authority, right? That’s the part that most lawyers only focus on, “Look at me. Look at my resume. I know so much stuff.” Okay, that’s great. That’s wonderful.
Now number two, which is actually number one is, “Will I like working with you? Will you make me feel good? Will you make me feel stupid? Will I trust you?” Which is the empathy factor. So the empathy factor is huge. That’s the bedside manner of doctors, right? So lawyers need bedside manner, too. And the better your bedside manner is, the more clients you’re going to get, and the easier they’re going to be to work with.
So how do you establish that? By telling them more about your authority? No! They already know that. Tell them more about what kind of person you are and what will happen is the kind of people who like that kind of person, will hire you. In fact, they’ll beg you to let you get to work with them.
Kevin: And they’ll tell other people about you.
Kevin: I mean, and it might be that you took a picture with your kids or your parents. Or, whatever it is. Because whatever gives you goosebumps is giving them goosebumps on the other side.
Ernie: Oh yeah. Exactly. That’s a great way to put it. That’s what you’re looking for, is the people who not only know you, know your stuff, but you give them goosebumps. Because you know what’s going to happen? They’re going to come in and they’re going to go, “I don’t even care what your rate is. Just sign me up.” Right? “What do I need to do so that you can represent me effectively?” That’s music to a lawyer’s ears. Most lawyers do not hear this often enough. The trick is you need more people who get the radio message in their head, “Oh I must go hire that guy, that girl.”
Kevin: Yeah, I mean I can remember a person drove from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to La-Crosse, 220 miles, because I was answering questions on AOL and I would archive them on the net, on a website. I’m trying to explain to her that I have a really good lawyer for her in Milwaukee and she goes, “No.” There with her husband, “You’re my lawyer.” I said, “Why am I your lawyer?” She holds up a stack of questions and answers.
Ernie: Yeah, okay. See?
Kevin: “This is why.” And it wasn’t the knowledge, it was the intimacy that was created. Somehow she thought she knew me. Why would she want to go to some scary lawyer?
Ernie: Because she did know you. See that’s the part that people need to understand. It’s not that they don’t know you. They do know you. But they only know you if you’re willing to share that information.
Ernie: If you’re going to be cagey and unapproachable, I’m not going to know you. And then you’re going to have to compete based on authority, which is an abundance of and you can’t compete there.
Kevin: That’s a commodity.
Ernie: Okay, that’s a commodity. And also price. They’re going to go, “Okay fine. You’re a lawyer, you know stuff. But there are other lawyers that know stuff. Why should I pay you the same as the other guy?”
Kevin: Because I take Square. I mean it’s kind …
Ernie: Yeah, that’s not going to work. Well, it’s not going to work for you, but it will work for somebody.
Kevin: Yeah, but I know I mean … I didn’t. I didn’t. Square wasn’t around.
Kevin: The vulnerability factor, just to be vulnerable is okay.
Ernie: You don’t have to be completely vulnerable. Here’s the other thing, lawyers go, “Well I don’t want to share everything.” Fine! Don’t share everything about your life. I mean, share some things.
Kevin: You can blow gray smoke. You don’t have to blow 100% black.
Ernie: Yeah. Just share something. You know it’s okay … So one of the easiest things you can do, if you’re a lawyer and you want to tap into this kind of stuff, is get a free MailChimp account. Okay? We’re not even going to have to have a website yet. Get a free MailChimp account, put all the names and addresses of the people who already know you and then start sending the new clients in there. And once a week or once a month, send an email, and picture one of them, like your friend. And just say, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing. Here’s a picture of my kids. Here’s what they’re doing.” Treat them like they’re already family and they will respond like they’re already family.
Kevin: Already family.
Ernie: You don’t have to share everything because you don’t share everything with your family members either. Right?
Kevin: You get to do this for a living now. What are you doing?
Ernie: I help lawyers connect the dots. The tech dots are harder to connect now. A lot of it is the technology. What should I use? Okay fine, that’s one thing. The biggest piece of the puzzle, I think, that’s missing for lawyers who are overwhelmed with technology, is thinking that they either have to do a lot of it or most of it themselves. No, you don’t and you shouldn’t. Or number two, well who do I go to for help? The thing is, we’ve been around this for a long time. I know the people that really know their stuff, that are good people, good to work with, and that will help you, even though they may not be the one who can help you. Even though they’re selling something that you could buy, they’ll go,”Well you know what, that’s not the best thing for you to buy right now. You should go over and get this.” Those are the gems that people need to connect with. So I just help them connect them with the people or the stuff that they need to know. So basically what I sell is clarity. But I know that you can’t say that’s what you sell.
Kevin: Oh you can sell …
Ernie: Because nobody thinks they’re looking for clarity, but you are.
Kevin: I can give you a clear signal like FM among all this static.
Ernie: Yeah. I mean, here’s what you need to know. I’m not selling anything other than helping you connect the dots.
Kevin: Clarity is good.
Kevin: Hey, thank you.
Ernie: Thank you. I appreciate it.