The iPad: The Future of Personal Computing
Read all about the most recent Xemplars

Ask an irrelevant question, get an irrelevant answer.


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Ask an irrelevant question, get an irrelevant answer."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Ask an irrelevant question, get an irrelevant answer.

The legal blogosphere has been atwitter lately over the results of a survey conducted by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. The goal of the survey was to determine how people go about finding a lawyer to handle their personal legal matters. This simple survey resulted in a surprising number of spirited blog posts on a range of different topics.

At the blog “Lexblog”, Kevin O’Keefe, the CEO of Lexblog, Inc., a company that provides legal blogs and social media consulting to lawyers, took issue with the ABA Journal blog’s reporting of the survey, in a blog post entitled “How People Find Lawyers: Referrals Are Popular, Blogs Not So Much, Poll Finds.”

Attorney Carolyn Elefant, at her blog “My Shingle,” was unhappy with a conclusion--reached in the comments at Lexblog  between Kevin and Will Hornsby, staff counsel for the ABA—that solos and small firms were somehow to blame for the low standing of blogs in the survey results.

Meanwhile, Venkat Balasubramani, a Seattle attorney, expressed his disbelief at his blog, “Spam Notes,” that the survey was conducted using landline phones.

And, at his blog “Simple Justice,” Scott Greenfield, a Manhattan-based criminal defense attorney, concluded that if lawyers want to get clients the best way to do so is to focus on becoming a better lawyer.

(Bob Ambrogi also offered up his take on the survey at his blog, LawSites, as did Susan Cartier Liebel at Solo Practice Univerity--after I'd submitted this article to my editor).

I figured now that the dust had settled I might as well chime in and add my 2 cents on the issue. That being--they asked the wrong question.

The stated goal of that section of the survey was to determine the effectiveness of online platforms in assisting consumers in finding a lawyer. Respondents should have been asked to outline the process that they would undertake to find an attorney using the Internet. Instead, they were asked the following question: “If you needed a lawyer for a personal legal matter, how likely would you be to use the following resources to find one?”

Respondents were then asked to rank the utility of the following online platforms: A lawyer’s website, an online directory, a website where you can ask lawyers legal questions, a website where people post their problems and lawyers interested in representing them follow up, a website that rates lawyers, blogs, social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Listservs.

The choices ranked as most likely to be used were lawyer websites, question and answer websites and lawyer rating websites. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and listservs fared the worst.

Of course those were the results. This outcome was predictable and largely predetermined by the poorly framed question.

The question format fails because it doesn’t square with reality. Sure, respondents would prefer the idea using the knowledge-based online platforms when searching for an attorney using the Internet. The problem is that most legal consumers don’t even know that these platforms exist and would only stumble upon a particular site as a result of a Google search

Generally speaking, unless there is a universally well known online vendor such as Amazon, Zappos or  eBay, people turn to Google (or other search engines). Most of the time, the sites that appear on the first page of the search results and provide quality information are the sites used by consumers.

When consumers search for lawyers, depending on the terms of the search, the results take consumers to any number of websites, including those listed as a response to the ABA’s original question. Consumers then choose whether to call a particular attorney based on the quality of information contained on the site, not based on the type of site providing the information.

Whether that’s the best method for choosing an attorney is another question for another day. The stated goal of the survey was to determine the effectiveness of online platforms for client development—something the survey simply did not do.

The survey was successful in that it ascertained how people would prefer to go about choosing an attorney using the Internet. Unfortunately, it failed to determine how people actually find lawyers using online tools. And, isn’t that what lawyers who choose to invest their time and money into these tools really need to know?

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at [email protected].


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Jon Lewis

I agree with your take on this issue. The framing of questions can affect the outcome. This is why it is important to consider this concept during voir dire, and the framing of questions can affect the outcome of various polls. When the results say referrals are the number one method for finding an attorney, this can be accomplished via fb and twitter through crowd sourcing. That is the same thing as a referral but with new technology.

The comments to this entry are closed.