Legal Marketing Conflicts of Interest

Gyi Tsakalakis
February 1, 2021

Lawyers learn very early in their education the issues relating to conflicts of interest. In fact, at least four the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct refer to "conflicts" expressly in their title:

Put simply, lawyers are particularly aware of the dangers of conflicts. However, when it comes to hiring a law firm SEO agency, they tend to not notice or care.

Take, for example, the two Portland personal injury law firms in the map at the top of this post. Their offices are about 1.8 miles away from each other, and yet, they use the same digital marketing agency.

How do I know this?

Their agency publishes, "Site by [agency name]" in the footer of every page on both sites (with a link mind you).

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that this agency is hiding this fact from their clients. In fact, this particular agency publishes right on their website that they:

limit the number of law firms we work with to 4 per geographic area to help ensure that all our clients are successfully generating new business on a consistent basis"

In other words, they'll work with your firm and three of your local competitors.

I'm also not suggesting that they aren't able to deliver on their promise of successfully generating new business to all four firms on consistent basis. Maybe they can.

And maybe, just maybe, these firms don't work with this agency, but just haven't removed the site credential from the footer (yeah, right).

However, here's what they can't do: Make all four law firms appear in the top position for the same search query. And, in fact, when you look at a local share of voice report for these firms' local pack visibility in their area, one shows up as the #7 share of voice leader and the other is, well, nowhere to be found.

Now look, there's a chance that this agency has explained all of this to both firms and has been granted informed consent by both firms. But I'm skeptical.

But even if both firms know that this agency is working with their competition, and even if they're getting a return on their investments with this agency, the fact will always remain: one firm will always be second-fiddle to the other with respect to any given search result.

The truth is that I'm being overly generous here. These conflicts create a host of issues for the client firms. And I certainly don't mean to pick on these particular firms or this particular agency. This is actually extremely common in digital legal marketing.

You see, lawyers will go perform a search on Google and see which firms "show up on top." Then they'll click-through to their competitor's site and scroll to the bottom to look for that footer credential (Site by such and such with a link back).

In fact, with respect to personal injury lawyers in Portland, OR, there are at least two other agencies that have conflicts that I was able to identify without even really trying.

Their thinking goes, "Hey, they're getting this result for my competition, surely they'll get it for me too." And therein lies the rub. Search is largely a "winner takes most" game. In the best scenarios, both firms are getting "good enough" results to justify the conflict. In many instances, the agency pits two competitors against each other in a bidding war. It goes something like this:

Lawyer 1: We see you are working with our competitor, Lawyer 2. Why is Lawyer 2 doing so much better than us?

Agency: Actually, Lawyer 2 pays us a lot more money than you. If you want to do as well as Lawyer 2, you have to pay us more.

You see where this is headed...

Bottom line: Don't be like Lawyer 1.

Ask your marketing people whether they're working with other firms in your location and practice area(s). Ask them whether they're willing to enter into an exclusivity agreement.

Interestingly, in the instant case, neither of these firms is cracking the top five share of local voice for personal injury law firms in Portland. So, they both probably ought to get a second opinion with respect to their local SEO strategy.

Expect more from your marketing people. If they're working with your competition, imagine what else they might be doing that doesn't have your best interests in mind.

If you're wondering whether your current agency is working with a competitor, ask us. We're happy to help you find out...

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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