By Daniel Fisher
Lawyers have embraced the Web as a way to get clients, spending an estimated $52.6 million a year on keyword advertising alone, an amount that dwarfs the Obama campaign’s Internet ad budget as well as the amount Apple spent on keyword promotions of its iPad and iPhone launches.
A study released today by the Institute for Legal Reform examined the bidding on Google for 125 litigation-tinged words such as “asbestos,” “mesothelioma” and “whistleblower” and then estimated how much law firms were paying to run advertisements based on them. The group identified at least 25 law firms that were spending more than $100,000 a year on Google keyword advertising including one Houston-based plaintiff firm that it estimated spent $16 million last year.
The law firms also have set up myriad “informational” websites such as “mesolthelium.com” and “socialsecurity-disability.org” that serve as lead generators but rarely identify the law firm that is paying for them. And lawyers haven’t missed the search-engine optimization boat, either: Google “cruise ship assault” and the top sites appear to be affiliated with Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkelman, a law firm specializing in maritime cases.
The ILR is funded by the pro-business U.S. Chamber. The study was performed by New Media Strategies, a Meredith Corp. unit that specializes in analyzing social-media advertising.
The analysis of Google keywords showed that mesothelioma continues to be the most expensive word on the Web for lawyers, with firms paying as much as $79 per click by people researching the term. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure, and each of the roughly 3,000 cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. can be expected to generate $1 million or more in legal settlements. New Media Strategies estimated that Google collected $79.57 for the phrase “treatment of mesothelioma,” $67.51 for “what is mesothelioma?” and $59 for “mesothelioma attorneys,” far more than the top-rated terms related to insurance, mortgages and software.
The top spender identified in the ILR study was Danziger & De Llano, a Houston firm that the ILR says spent $16.6 million last year on key terms driving potential clients to websites such as veteran-answers.com and spinal-cord.org. No one from Danziger was immediately available to comment.
Coming in second was Sokolove Law at $6 million. The Massachusetts firm is well known for its nationwide TV advertising, which it uses to identify plaintiffs it then refers to litigators in exchange for a piece of any fees. Other big spenders included asbestos lawyer Mark Lanier and mesothelioma specialists Shrader & Associates.
The law firms have branched out into social media including Twitter and Facebook, the ILR said, sometimes without identifying themselves completely. The Sokolove firm maintains the Ban Asbestos Now! page on Facebook, for example, without identifying itself as the owner. The firm’s name appears at the bottom of the accompanying website. Mesothelioma.com’s Facebook page has garnered 45,000 “likes.” The page’s sponsor, James F. Early LLC, is identified only in halfway down the “Information” page.
All this bothers the Chamber, of course, since its members tend to be the targets of the resulting litigation. “Digital marketing may provide the spark that ignites a new era of growth for the plaintiffs’ bar,” the group warns. No estimate in the report of how much tort-reform groups spend on similar efforts.