D.A. Confidential is outed by the Austin American Statesman:

Mark Pryor said that friends, neighbors and fellow lawyers regularly ask him about his job as a felony prosecutor in Travis County.

And the former newspaper reporter, who hopes to soon be a published novelist, loves to write.

So Pryor began a blog last month called D.A. Confidential, which he hopes will give readers insight into the local criminal justice system and will be a fun place to read his take on stupid criminals, novel crimes, crime novels and related things.

Far as I could tell, everyone in the courthouse already knew.

Waiting in line for a down elevator after getting out of court this morning, a lawyer and a client talking about having the ignition interlock on his car "the whole time" while his case was pending:

Client: I haven’t gotten into any trouble for almost two years.

Lawyer: …and for you, that’s actually really impressive.

The lawyer had a big grin on his face, and the client laughed.
 

Why do so many criminal defense lawyers, who are solo practitioners mostly, insist on getting a DBA or incorporating as “The Law Offices of [John Smith]” plural? Instead of “The Law Office of [John Smith]” singular?

Actually it’s not just those in the criminal defense bar I notice doing this; it’s solos of all kinds.  I suspect they want to project an image of a big law firm where tons of attorneys are running around doing all sorts of busy criminal defense work all day. That’s what will attract clients (the theory goes).

 

In fact, the reason most of us are solos is that you need one attorney, not many, to handle all important aspects of your case. 

 

I office with two other Austin defense lawyers, Lance Stott and Dax Garvin, but we’re not partners, we are criminal defense lawyers who share some office space a few blocks from the jail. Well, we’re friends to, but from a business standpoint, we are all solos.

 

And we occasionally “handle” a court setting for each other if necessary, but it’s almost always the type of setting where nothing really happens. The case just gets reset. Most of those times it’s when the client’s appearance is not even required.

 

Or it might be that the resolution to a case has already been determined (plea of no contest for probation or backtime, or turn in a counseling certificate to get a dismissal, etc.) and one of us is wrapping up the case for the other because we have to be somewhere else.

 

But we all work substantively on our own cases. We don’t share the work load of a criminal defense case. (The exception to that is sometimes it’s helpful to run a PC affidavit or an indictment past a colleague to bounce ideas off of them. “Hey, so you see anything wrong with this charging instrument?”)

 

Another exception of course is in “big” cases. Big big cases sometimes require multiple lawyers. And it’s always helpful to have someone around to second chair a jury trial, even if it’s “just” a misdemeanor.

 

But none of these are reasons to call yourself “The Law Offices” of So-and-So, when really it’s just you, the one attorney, and your staff.

 

And when you explain to a potential client that you, the human being sitting in front of them, will be the one “handling” all of the important settings in their case, you’ll find out that most people appreciate that. So there’s no need to project the image of the multiple busy lawyer law firm with hundreds of attorneys, spread out over several law offices, possible several states plural.

 

It’s perfectly OK to be the “Law Office of”… Just you, one lawyer, who knows every aspect of each client’s case.

“Hi, Dennis.”

Bumped into fellow Austin criminal defense lawyer Jon Evans in the courthouse last week, and he had just looked me right in the eyes and said, “Hi, Dennis”.

I’ve known Jon for as long as I’ve been a lawyer. He officed upstairs in the old Stewart Title Building when I was first out of law school and practicing on the first floor. He had only been practicing for about 5-6 years at the time, but he was already one of the most seasoned trial lawyers in Austin.

That was more than ten years ago. We have enjoyed each other’s company while standing in line chatting about interesting issues and recent cases and the like. 

And I’m 100% certain he knows my name is “Jamie”. But he said, “Hi Dennis”. He also had that Jon Evans grin.

I said “Hunh?” (I am getting a bit deaf in my middle age.)

“Hi, Dennis. You’re Dennis Toad right?”

Ahhhhh. I see said the blind man. Jon thought I was the anonymous author of a new “blog” that had appeared recently in the Austin blogosphere: “Austin Law News”. The author is listed as “Dennis Toad” but s/he has clearly gone to great lengths to remain anonymous – some would say “with good reason”.

Taint me.

One of my other accusers (there’s been more than Jon) pointed out to me that if it were my doing, then I would still be denying it to his face. Probably true, but it’s still not me.

I have my suspicions, but I’ll keep them to myself (unless you want to walk up to me in the courthouse and talk to me in semi-private about it).

So… Dennis Toad, please email me anonymously if you wish, but tell me…

Who are you?

UPDATEKeith Lauerman isn’t Dennis Toad either.

You Don’t Make Friends With Salad responds to my recent $1,000,000 post:

Jamie is decrying the online ad spending of the local criminal defense bar. According to his estimates, in the Austin market alone, criminal defense attorneys are spending about $1 million per year on Google’s cost-per-click AdWords program. I’m not sure that the number is quite that high, but if it’s an overestimate, it’s not by much.

For the lawyers who are getting in and bidding upwards of $50 for the most popular keywords and phrases, I have to think that Jamie’s right. This cost is being passed on to the clients. But lots of costs get passed on to clients: rent/mortgage payments, staff salaries, etc. In a market like Austin where the fight for clients is so competitive, you have to have some way to drive potential clients to call, email, or walk in the door. Referrals are great, especially from former clients, but it takes a long while for a practitioner (however great) to develop a critical mass of new clients based solely on reputation.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong, certainly in and of itself, with passing costs on to clients. And when it comes to professional services, that often includes advertising. Actually, the post was just my amazement at the numbers.

As for the numbers? YDMFWS’ suggestion that I might be overestimating made me rethink. I claimed one million was conservative in the original post. I’ve crunched some numbers.

If you include not just [Geographical Location] criminal defense lawyer, but various individual offenses, such as DWI, assault, marijuana, theft, etc. with [Geographical Location] County Jail, Bail Bonds, etc… well…

It might be an overestimate, after I tried to figure it out. Let me restate.

I’m working with some unknown factors here. I’m going to give the one million dollar estimate a confidence interval of only 50%. Not very confident, for the mathematically challenged. But at five hundred thousand dollars or more?

99% confidence. (N.B. I’m using the Statistics definition of confidence interval.)

I know just enough about SEO – search engine optimization – to be dangerous.

That is to say, I find it interesting, and I’ve looked into it, but I’m not remotely an expert.

But folks come up to me in the Travis County Courthouse frequently – other lawyers that is – and ask me point blank, “How does your site rank so high on Google?” Or “How do you get to Number One on Google?” As a quick aside, the questions amuse me, because it’s always phrased that way, and never includes the necessary part to make the question sensible, that is… “for the phrase [fill-in-the-blank]”.

After all, I certainly don’t ‘rank’ number one for the queries New York Times; Paris Hilton; Mapquest; or GameCheats for Playstation.  

Back to the original question at hand, though: How do you (Jamie) rank so high for [Austin, Tx, Criminal, Defense, Lawyer, or some other similar combination]?

Now there’s a lot of collegiality amongst the defense bar, at least in Austin, but I’ve always wondered whether anyone thinks about the possibility that I might not want to reveal a ‘trade secret’. After all, these are technically speaking my competitors. (I like to think they ask me because they think I’m a no nonsense guy that says what he thinks. But enough about how wonderful I am.)

Actually, I’m always happy to give them the best answer I know. Like the secret of real estate, it boils down to three basic elements, but instead of location it’s:

  • Content
  • Content
  • Content

Content relevant to the keywords your potential customer is looking for. That’s it.

And blogging is the best way to frequently update your website with good quality content about your practice area – after all, a blog is just a specific type of website, nothing magical, nothing more.

I’ll add three more factors to the mix.

Time: For me, blogging takes time. I enjoy doing it, but it’s not always easy. Bloggers Block happens frequently. So, OK, I don’t post for a while. And then it comes in several productive spurts. Not everyone can be Scott Greenfield, with his 4.5 post per day average. Or is that 45 per day? I can’t keep up.

Knowledge: You’ve got to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, it will show. That’s fine if Grandma is the only one reading your personal diary type blog – she already knows you’re the dimwitted one in the family and loves you anyway. But if you’re doing it even in part for commercial purposes, that’s going to be a problem.

Style: Blogging is writing, and every good writer worth reading has their own style. Mine probably leans a little too far towards the ‘smart alec’ side of the spectrum for my own good, at least for the ‘commercial purposes’ mentioned above, but it’s still my own tone of voice. I think your style comes through, makes the writing genuine and personal, and let’s the reader know how you feel about the subjects you’re blogging about. When it comes to hiring a lawyer to defend you in court, don’t you want to know something about who he really is?

That’s basically it.

Pretty basic stuff. Ask yourself why you use Google as your search engine of choice. The answer is invariably going to be a variation of ‘because it gives me the answers I’m looking for’.

Right. You went and sat at the computer and Googled the phrase [fill-in-the-blank] because you wanted to know more about [fill-in-the-blank]. You don’t want to see a one or two page static website trumpeting the virtues of Q. Benedict Huntington III, Esquire, with the promise that if you call him and/or pay him money he will tell you all about [fill-in-the-blank].

So put some content on your website (blog) that potential customers are literally yearning for, and Google will give you credit for it, and your rankings will go up.

Just don’t ask me how they do it. They will.

Related Post: How to Give Google A Ton of Money

Per year. $1,000,000.00 into Google’s coffers.

That’s my guestimate as to how much local defense lawyers are spending in these parts to advertise various phrases through Google’s AdWords program.  I’m going to attempt to make this a substantive post, not just something that Google – or the other search engines – scans and reads for various keywords and phrases, so I’m not going to list what the most popular keywords are… but you can imagine that they focus on a combination of geography and the profession itself.

This guess isn’t just off the top of my head either.

I have it from pretty reliable sources within several of the various law firms that participate in Google’s “Why Don’t You All Just Outbid Each Other” marketing, or often from the horses’ mouths themselves just how much some law firms are spending per month. There are several paying Google more than $10k per month. Some are spending substantially more than that.

Sure, some folks jump into the market at first, and then disappear, when they realize the high cost of being #5 or in some cases #10. But most stick around, and keep driving up those Google profits.

And knowing how AdWords is structured, that is, the higher the ranking in the Sponsored Results, the more the bidder is paying, combined with watching various internet advertising over the last year or so, I’d say one million spent in Austin alone for lawyers advertising criminal defense services is a conservative estimate.

Amazing.

That’s a lot of advertising costs that get passed on to the clients.

Related Post: Ranking High on Google For Free