Reaching New Clients in Rural Michigan

Clear & Convincing Feature Article

Reaching New Clients in Rural Michigan

Recently, I talked to Cathy Church, of Church & Korhonen, who has a bankruptcy practice in Marquette. Her clients come from the Upper Peninsula, which is mostly rural. As we spoke, she mentioned that many of her clients came to her from Facebook.

This is not surprising since a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center (Mobile Messaging & Social Media)—which compared several different demographic groups and how they use social media—showed that, while rural users use social media less than urban users, Facebook is their most popular site. 67% of them log on to Facebook.

Michigan covers 56,804 square miles, with a 2016 estimated population of 9,928,300 people—1,796,678 living in rural Michigan (USDA-ERS). Thus 67%, or 1,203,774, of Michigan's rural population uses Facebook. And those folks, per the U.S. Census, live in the northern half of the state, the Thumb, and the Upper Peninsula.

How do you reach rural Internet consumers?

  • Facebook: If you want to separate your personal Facebook presence from your business, create a Facebook page which is a public profile specifically created for businesses, brands, celebrities, causes, and other organizations. Unlike personal profiles, pages do not gain "friends," but "fans"—which are people who choose to "like" a page.
  • Your Website & Online Member Directory Profile: A website builds trust and credibility, creates a good first impression, and helps consumers contact you. Consumers are often anxious when calling a lawyer. However, those who visit a website, see your picture, or read your profile in the Member Directory, get to know you a little, feel emboldened, and are more likely to call you. And you can announce the publication of new material on your website or Facebook profile page.
  • Your Blog: Two basic reasons for writing a blog are to keep your name top of mind for current clients and to attract new clients. Your blog should provide interesting and entertaining information in your area of practice that is useful to current and prospective clients. And you should announce the publication of your new blog on Facebook and your website and include a link to it in your SBM Member Directory profile.

Connecting with the other 33%.

With rural consumers who aren't Internet users, other marketing techniques must be included. Remember face-to-face networking to be sure that everyone you know or meet know that you're a lawyer and the type of law you practice. Other techniques include running ads in the local paper, high school football program, or weekly church bulletin.

Include a picture of yourself on your website, blog, billboards, and local newspaper ads. Don't be surprised if you're recognized as you move about town. Be ready to talk about your practice and the services you offer. Be careful that your conversations don't respond to individual legal scenarios, as you don't want to create a prospective client-attorney relationship.

Also, remember the ethics rules.

Remember to keep ethics rules in mind when posting, particularly MRPC 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3. Put together an ethics guide for the firm to follow, including the applicable rules and links to relevant ethics opinions available on the State Bar ethics page. Remember, communication that you start with someone you don't know and without invitation, (e.g., online chats), is analogous to ethically prohibited direct solicitation. Don't give legal advice—stick with news and informational posts in your area of practice to avoid the potential of creating client conflicts. When in doubt about the ethics of your Facebook, blog, or website communication, call the SBM ethics helpline at (877) 558-4760 before you post.

Roberta GubbinsRoberta Gubbins has served as the editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides services as a ghostwriter editing articles, blogs, and e-blasts for lawyers and law firms. She is the editor of Briefs, the Ingham County Bar Association e-newsletter, and The Mentor, SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.

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