To phonebook advertise, or to not phonebook advertise?

Every fall brings about an influx of phone book representatives. They ascend upon law offices searching for easy ad revenue. For most attorneys it is a non decision- they are bound by fear and tradition to keep advertising in the phone book.

The phone book rep will always tell you that your neighbor just bought a bigger ad with better fonts and colors. This begets an advertising arms race. It reminds me of the same herd/fear mentality that caused the purchase of so many study aids in law school. Among 1Ls there was a near universal purchase of all the “right” study aids. If your peers bought the Torts flash cards and you didn’t, you were at a perceived disadvantage. Many of these study tools went unused and later are sold at a discount to the incoming 1Ls. The same mentality makes the attorney phone ad game alive.. After all, lawyers are simply older 1Ls.

When I began my practice conventional wisdom held that the phone book was the best way to reach new clients. I disagree and this year I am not renewing my phone book ads.

This will come as a shock to many of my colleagues but the phone book ad game hurts our clients. The phone book rewards firms with the biggest phone ad budget. For example- if you are in the car wreck business the prime real estate is the back, front, and/or side of the phone book. That way, prospective clients need not even open the book to see your number. This system relies on clients hiring the first attorney they contact.

Personally consulting with an attorney has high opportunity costs. It takes a long time to schedule and interview multiple attorneys. Time many clients don’t have.

How do phone book ads help the client make an informed decision? They don’t.

First, phone books are no meritocracy. They will sell prominent ads to any firm, regardless of credentials. Attorneys can advertise for any area of law regardless of qualification or experience.

Phone books provide the same useless information for every lawyer (name, address, and phone number). To prospective clients this makes all lawyers look the same. There are only so many ways to put to arrange a gavel or American flag on an ad. No amount of great ad design helps the client decide which attorney is best for their case.

The main beneficiary of phone book ads is the status quo. The attorney that made the most last year, can usually afford the biggest ad next year. It suppresses the creative destruction of the market place.

It will come as no surprise that I view the google/blog method as highly superior. It gives clients a much more detailed view of a lawyer’s practice. You can tell a lot from reading a blog. You can also quickly weigh your options. Choosing between multiple attorneys no longer requires multiple long embarrassing interviews.

My phone number and address are easy enough to find online. They will be a little harder to find in the yellow pages.

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