As you may recall, last week The Sociable Lawyer partnered with Google for a recent meetup at Google’s San Francisco office. The event provided an opportunity for members of The Sociable Lawyer’s meetup group to meet with members of Google’s team to discuss ways the attorneys could use Google’s suite of collaborative tools to enhance the operation of their law practices. The tools we specifically covered included Gmail, Google Groups, Google+ for businesses, Hangouts, Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Places. If you weren’t able to join us (after all, space was limited to 20 attorneys), don’t worry: here’s a recap of three of the most useful tools we covered.
There is a good chance you’re already familiar with Google’s free, online document creation tool. Google Docs allows you to easily update, edit, upload, or create documents, spreadsheets, and more. Because your Google Docs are stored in the cloud, you can access your files from any computer or mobile device simply by logging into your Google account. Best of all, Google Docs is collaborative so that you can work on documents with colleagues or assistants and view their edits and changes in real time.
Google Calendar may be one of the most underrated tools Google offers. Not only is it a convenient way to keep track of calls, deadlines and meetings for my practice, but it’s also proven to be a great way for my wife and I to coordinate our personal calendars. Best of all, it’s easy to use. You simply create calendar events and Google will notify you before the event is scheduled to occur. You can also add other recipients (an associate, your significant other, etc.) to the event so that it will appear on their calendar as well.
It was my sense that many of the attorneys in the room were particularly interested in learning more about Google Places. I can say that it is the Google tool I was least familiar with prior to the event. If you haven’t heard of it before, Google Places is Google’s free, location-based business listing platform. By adding practice to the service, your business will appear on localized Google search results and Google Maps. This can be important because, according to the numbers provided by Google’s team, 97% of consumers search for local businesses online and 20% of all searches are local in nature. This is important because it means that by signing up with Google Places your legal practice is more likely to appear in the results of a search performed by an individual in your area than attorneys who aren’t signed up with the service or attorneys located far away from the person performing the search.
It’s easy to add your business to Google Places. Go to http://google.com/places to get started. Click the link to add your business and then begin by adding all of your business information including your address and practice areas (i.e. “category”). The first category must be one of Google’s pre-made categories (such as “Attorney”), but you can add custom categories after that (such as “Entertainment Attorney”).
If you have a home office and don’t want to share your home address with the world, don’t worry. Although you have to provide address information to Google so that they can confirm your business, you can opt to hide your specific address on Google Maps. While creating the account, under the heading for “Service Areas and Location Settings,” you can select “Yes, this business serves customers at their locations.” This will allow you to then select “Do not show my business address on Maps listings.”
In addition to appearing on Maps and receiving better SEO for your business, adding your firm to Google Places also provides you access to valuable analytic data including the ability to see where your customers are coming from and the search queries used to find your business. Used properly this information can help you better market your services and potentially expand your practice.
Google+ For Businesses
Google+ was conceived as Google’s answer to Facebook. So far it hasn’t proven nearly as popular, but Google continues to work to improve the service all the time.
One of the features Google was keen to promote at the meetup was the ability to target your messages to different groups. If you’ve used Google+ before you’re probably familiar with their setup which includes the use of Circles. The basic idea is that when someone follows you or your business on Google+ you can decide what information to share with them based on which Circle you’ve placed them in. One example of how this could be used is by creating a Circle for “existing clients” and one Circle for “prospective clients.” Then when you decide to share a message on Google+ you can decide which group(s) will see your new message.
Google also stressed the value of using Hangouts in Google+ as a way to create personal interactions with clients or prospective clients. Hangouts are basically video chat rooms in which you can interact with groups of people at the same time. People in the Hangout can see you and you can see them. It’s a free tool and provides a great tool for creating personal interactions with groups of people.