Attorney’s who need to market their practice online are always looking for the best results on a budget. Just like bigger law firms that have more pedigree, some law firms have a habit of trusting the biggest law firm marketing companies without analyzing their results and methods. As you’re about to learn, that might not always be the best decision.
This article was put together with the help of attorneys who have worked with Findlaw and former FindLaw employees.
Whether you’re an existing Findlaw customer, or you’re thinking about becoming one, you need to know about the experiences we have all had working with the company.
A Little Bit of Background on Findlaw
Findlaw, a Thompson Reuters company has been around for many years offering complete marketing services for their clients. Over the past 8 years I have worked directly with many attorney clients who have retained Findlaw at one point or another for their internet marketing campaigns. During this time I have heard the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First Off: Are Everyone’s Experiences with Findlaw Bad?
Of course not and this is for several reasons. First and foremost, their SEO product still continues to work in some areas and in different ways. I spoke with an attorney who used to be based out of New Jersey last week that told me he thought he did fine with Findlaw, but when he moved his practice and learned he didn’t own any of his website content, he got a little angry.
On the other side of the coin, I am regularly asked by attorney’s if they should sue Findlaw. I’m not an attorney, so this question always catches me off guard. In my opinion more people just need to be educated on what you’re getting for your money when you sign up with any SEO company whether it be Findlaw or any other. Now let’s look at the top three areas of complaints we hear from current and past FindLaw clients.
1) FindLaw Contracts
If you ever need to fall asleep I recommend you read the Findlaw Master Services Agreement here. It’s not super long or super boring (although some might find it that way). The problem for me is their internal terminology which causes a lot of unnecessary confusion.
Just a few weeks ago a client we’re working with escalated their lack of performance with intent to cancel to an area manager. This particular client was very clear to include that the services were not working for him as promised. The response from the Findlaw Rep was a bit astounding and included: “We both know how successful this program has been for you in XXXXXXXXX. When we started together your goal was to increase your XXXXXXX, which we did.” – Findlaw Manager
If you ever need to cancel a contract with Findlaw I suggest you check out the Findlaw Jailbreak Guide which can be downloaded here.
What Does Your Contract Include?
Another problem with FindLaw contracts has been ambiguity. According to a former Findlaw Employee who worked in the web marketing division, “be aware of what you are paying them for each month – ask them specifically what they are doing each and every month, again if they say it’s proprietary – red flag.” (Former Findlaw Employee).
2) Sales Issues
There are some shocking accusations from former employees of Findlaw. You can read their comments openly on Glassdoor.com like the one below.
“Sales people are Pretty out-of-control, they seem to really look after their own pockets versus the client. The attitude is “lawyers have money who cares”, that seems to be a universal attitude across the company, and every writer I meet seems to be pretty angry and frustrated” (Glassdoor.com public review)
3) Ownership Issues
I have put these in a question and answer format so you can know what to ask. Whether you’re working with a huge company like Findlaw or a smaller SEO company the questions are the same. You need to have a firm understanding of what you own and what you lease. Personally I would not recommend a marketing company where any of these questions come back with a “no” answer.
Do you own your domain name?
Thankfully I have been seeing this one less recently. Your domain name is your www.com name that your website visitors will type into their web browser. In some cases we have found that Findlaw and other companies have held these hostage and not given control over easily. Make sure you own your domain name. You should be easily able to transfer your domain name to a service like Network Solutions or Godaddy and retrain control of it.
Do you own your website design?
Typically when you hire a website designer you purchase the design she creates. It’s built on a common content management system (which we’ll talk about next) and you can take it with you wherever you go. Findlaw has a tendency to lease your website to you. This means if you stop paying it can disappear and you can’t move it. If it’s a newer website it should also be mobile friendly.
On a Findlaw agreement this is typically listed as the FirmSite monthly charge. You should also check your agreement for firm site mobile as it’s generally itemized differently.
Just this week I spoke with a FindLaw representative that informed me that their client did not own the site. Her response was
“No, he does not own the design. He would have to purchase an EUI to take the design.” – FindLaw Representative on 12/29/14
Is Your Website Built on a Platform You Can Take With You?
Most modern websites are built on a CMS or content management system. If you think it’s an issue just not owning your domain and your website design you also need to realize that the design is coded to work on a certain CMS. The most common CMS you probably hear about is WordPress. This is the software that runs the functionality of the website. If your website was designed on and is hosted on WordPress you can easily take it with you wherever you go. That means if you were unhappy with service you could simply talk to a technically competent website hosting company and move it from point A to point B.
Findlaw on the other hand does not offer this. They use a proprietary and custom CMS that you cannot pay for. So even if you owned the design from Findlaw you still would have to have it re-coded to work on a popular platform like WordPress.
Do You Own Your Content?
If you pay someone to write content for you, please make sure you own it. This is another frustrating thing we encounter with clients and potential clients who are with Findlaw. When they become unhappy and try to leave they have come to the realization that they do not in fact even own their own content.
According to their Master Services Agreement it appears you really need to be aware of “West Content”. Their agreement indicates: “1.18 “West Content” means any West-owned content or third-party materials licensed by West, including, but not limited to, any stock images, letter or word marks created by West for Subscriber, and third-party owned content to which a hyperlink is provided from the Services. West Content includes, but is not limited to, FAQs, e-Newsletters, Practice Pages, and Practice Centers.”
On another note, if you do own your content make sure to run it through Copyscape or a similar service to ensure it’s not duplicate. Duplicate content is a big no no and can penalize you ever since the Google Panda update.
Are They Leaching your Link Juice and Leveraging You for Marketing?
I’m sure plenty of SEO companies will disagree with me on this point, but let me explain. High quality links are a great way to boost your rankings in search engines. The more links you have from trusted sites linking back to your website the better off you can be. Some marketing companies like to add “website powered by” or “designed by links” in the footer of their clients sites. While I can understand their need and desire for notoriety the reality is that link juice passes from one site to another. If I’m your SEO company and trying to help you get the most juice possible I would link to my own website as I would just be stealing your juice.
In some cases this is OK if it’s tagged with a noFollow attribute (although I still won’t do it), the reality is that Findlaw does not do this.
Also, guess how they continue to boost their own authority and build themselves up as a powerhouse? You can do a simple search in your city to see who their clients are. Just copy and paste this into Google and replace Los Angeles with your City Name:
“business development solutions by findlaw”+”los angeles”+”personal injury”
Potential Ethical Issues
Doing good SEO these days gets harder and harder. I’m sure you’re like me and get poorly written emails daily soliciting SEO services for a low cost. By now I’m sure you’ve figured not to sign up with them. The practices they use can get you penalized by Google which will take you out of the search results. I bring this up because FindLaw has been known and caught in the act using some very spammy tactics including duplicate content and link networks.
If you play with fire and get burned your site could be out for the count until its fixed during which point your online visibility would be greatly decreased.
Does Findlaw Offer any Products You Recommend?
While I have had mostly negative experiences with FindLaw over the years I do think there is some value to what they offer. While this varies on a case by case basis there are some scenarios where signing up for their directory package might provide some benefit, especially if you are aware of barnacle SEO.
If Findlaw’s directory ranks for keywords you’re trying to rank for, then showing up highly on their directory could result in calls.
As an internet marketer I’m a little bit obsessed with educating people. I regularly write for marketing publications such as Moz and contribute to many studies. Over the years I have been working as an SEO consultant I have heard a lot of interesting and nasty things about FindLaw.
In my opinion any company offering a one size fits all is pretty much a bad idea. These days you may have 100+ competing attorneys for your practice areas depending on your geographic area. That’s not the behavior of an ethical company in my opinion and given the issues we can easily identify it’s important that you know.
Further Reading on Findlaw SEO Practices:
Former Employee Reviews from Glassdoor.com
FindLaw Website, SEO, & Internet Marketing Review by Gyi Tsakalakis
Be Weary of Lawyer SEO Companies by John VanBockern
Casey Meraz is the founder of Ethical SEO Consulting and Lawyer SEO Marketing. He has been working to help attorneys with their SEO programs for over the past 8 years across the world. He specializes in attorney SEO and Local SEO.