FindLaw, the Thomson Reuters-owned lawyer directory and marketing services business, has been accused of selling “pre-SEOd” websites to the highest bidder.
Since Saam’s piece in May, the legal marketing blogosphere has weighed in on FindLaw’s approach, which some say is unethical but others fair game and acceptable business practice.
I’m not a search engine optimization expert, but FindLaw appears to have sold websites to lawyers, typically in small consumer-facing firms, that already rank highly in Google for competitive search terms.
In their eagerness to get an edge over the competition, attorneys can buy a pre-built website from FindLaw that will instantly enable them to appear in prominent positions online when consumers search for, say, “Las Vegas DUI lawyer”
This is an unusual approach, since a website designer would normally build a custom site for each new client.
But in this case, the suggestion is that another lawyer can simply come along and pay more to have that same website.
Legal marketers, consultants and commentators have offered their opinions on the ethics of this approach, which range from “disgusting” (Heather Morse @ The Legal Watercooler), to a more relaxed acceptance of this as all fair in business, to “what a great idea.”
At the risk of sounding like a fence sitter, I can see both sides.
Yes, there’s something a bit lame about FindLaw’s approach, but for those of us like myself who work predominantly in “BigLaw” – that is the largest commercial law firms in the United States and Europe and other major markets – it’s easy to forget that the competitive pressure in the small law firm and solo markets is intense.
Something like 80% of all attorneys in the U.S (around 1.2 million lawyers) are in law firms with fewer than five lawyers and most of them advise individuals and the public rather than businesses.
This is the market served by FindLaw.
At the coal face of consumer-facing legal practice, there are plenty of eager lawyers willing to cut corners – and pay for the privilege.