Rafi Arbel, President, Market JD (Chicago, IL)
Rafi Arbel is President at Market JD, an internet-based advertising that focuses its work on “increasing visibility” for small law firms specializing in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. With the kind of clientele the agency serves, the written content has to be extremely precise and accurate. That’s why the firm currently employs 3 attorneys. Rafi is one of them.
The agency provides websites, search engine optimization, pay-per-click, reputation management, and content production. The work split is about 65% to 70% personal injury and 55% (overlapping) worker’s compensation legal firms.
Rafi says, “Everybody can build a website and everybody can claim they do SEO or pay-per-click well.” Because this work is so labor-intensive and the details are numerous and critical, Rafi believes that those “who do it well” are not only those with knowledge, but those who have built a process to ensure consistent, high-quality outcomes. People have to know what they are doing, set an end objective, figure out the tasks to get it done, assess and respond to feedback, and do it “consistently over and over again.
Because Rafi practiced law for 6 years, he has represented people. Following a passion for selling and “engaging people,” he worked for Thompson Reuters and spent a number of years selling for Findlaw and Westlaw. Then, he went back for his MBA and again, and decided to change course, this time to become an entrepreneur. With this varied background and because he has been promoting small law firms for over 20 years, he understands what lawyers do, “how they do it, and how to position them.”
In this interview, Rafi notes how SEO has changed over the years, that searching for broadhead terms, “Chicago injury lawyer” or “Nevada workers’ compensation lawyer” renders a lot of paid ads at the top of the page so that even if a firm organically appears below that in the map section or even below that, the likelihood that SEO will produce much traffic is negligible. Or the firm’s won’t show well because Google’s Local Service ads take up the top of the page, followed by Google Ads below that. A big portion of the top of the screen gets taken up by all those paid ads . . . especially on mobile. So, broadhead SEO is not of great benefit to lawyers.
What does work are longtail searches. Rafi says the great race now is to “capture the longtail searches’ to find “the corners that the big guys don’t see.”
As an example, Rafi talks about a Nevada client . . . a personal injury lawyer who, unlike his big competitors, does not have$40,000 or $50,000 a month to spend on SEO. What the attorney does have is a lot of experience representing people who have suffered sepsis and whose doctors failed to treat it correctly. Medical malpractice? Not many Nevada lawyers work in that area. By building comprehensive content to cover sepsis and medical malpractice, Market JD is carving out a unique niche for the lawyer’s business and building a moat around the lawyer’s business as well. Few competitors in that specific area will be willing to invest the resources to match this project.
Rafi says the best way to contact him is to call him at: 312.970.9353 or email him at email@example.com. (Market JD like Juris Doctor)
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Rafi Arbel, President at Market JD based in Chicago, Illinois. Welcome to the podcast, Rafi.
RAFI: Thank you, Rob. Nice to be here.
ROB: Excellent to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Market JD, and what is the company’s superpower? What is your specialty?
RAFI: Market JD is an internet-based advertising firm. We only work for small law firms. People think that we work for lawyers; it’s much narrower than that. We really don’t work for the big firms. They have their own marketing needs that are very different. We really focus on small law firms. We do everything that they need online to increase their visibility, which means we do websites, we do search engine optimization, pay-per-click, some reputation management, and of course, the content production.
Your question was what is our superpower. What I have learned over the years is that everybody can build a website and everybody can claim they do SEO or pay-per-click well. What differentiates those who do it well from those who don’t is not just knowledge, but process. Because each of these things is so labor-intensive, and because there are so many details that have to get done right, you have to build a process behind every one of them. The process should really dictate the outcome.
If you are making sure all of your t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted, then you should get a consistent, high-quality product every time, assuming you know what you’re doing. Over the years we’ve gotten feedback, like everybody else, of what works and what doesn’t work, and where Google has rewarded us and where Google hasn’t rewarded us. We’ve taken those lessons, and those have affected what we want in the sites and what we don’t want, and how our sites need to be built and the content that we need to create. Then we convert those objectives into tangible tasks that can be assigned to every person in the process.
So, our superpower is our ability to take an end objective, figure out how to get it done, and then do it consistently over and over again.
ROB: Got it. You mentioned smaller law firms. Are there any particular practice areas or geographies that you focus on? Are there any that you do not do from a practice area or geographic area?
RAFI: Historically, we’ve focused primarily on workers’ compensation and personal injury law firms. I’d say 65% to 70% is personal injury, and probably overlapping, I’d say 55% workers’ comp, because some firms do both. But we have criminal law firms, divorce law firms, business law firms. Really, generally speaking, it’s a business-to-consumer law firm – those people who don’t just have a few big business clients that they get all their recurring work from. These are people that help the individual consumer, that constantly need a new flow of cases coming in. Those are the people that need us most.
It’s not that we can’t help those that just need a law firm brochure, but what we’re really good at is improving somebody’s visibility, not just creating a brochure. We might be overkill if all you want is something that validates your existence.
ROB: As a consumer, when you mention some of those practice areas, it certainly rings to me – my perception would be that that’s largely a reflection of the marketing budget of the different types of law firms. In other words, I certainly see a lot more personal injury and workers’ comp advertising than I see let’s say business law. Is that some of the alignment between your focus and the market?
RAFI: Absolutely. Although I do find it a little – I don’t understand why some of the other practice areas don’t spend more. Yes, it is true that the potential payout for a personal injury lawyer is much greater. But what I will say is that I think the estate planners and a lot of the transactional attorneys that have the potential – or even maybe especially the civil litigation lawyers, they have potential to make a huge amount of money from a civil litigation case. If they’re representing the manufacturer that bet the business on litigation, the attorney’s fees can easily be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So why those attorneys don’t want to spend a few grand a month to promote themselves is beyond me. But that’s beyond probably the scope of this conversation. At the end of the day, it’s really the personal injury lawyers who are spending and who are programmed and understand the need to spend to bring in a constant flow of high value cases.
ROB: As someone representing smaller firms in this space, how do you think about tactically going to war and finding the client for some of these firms? I don’t even know, and you might know, what the national advertising budget is for some of the national firms, but it’s got to be quite something to go up against. How do you think about giving your client the edge and the best bang for their buck on somebody who can spend almost unlimited amounts of money on out-of-home advertising, on SEO, on pay-per-click, on all of your keywords?
RAFI: That’s a really good question. We get this from time to time from personal injury or workers’ compensation lawyers who say just that. They say, “Look, in my marketplace there are four big competitors and they’re spending enormous money. They’ve got a 10-year lead on me. There’s no way I can compete, is there?” The truth is, they can compete. But we have to be careful in what we promote.
Oftentimes when you start to dig a little deeper into their practice areas, you find that not all personal injury lawyers and not all workers’ compensation lawyers focus on the same things. For example, I have a client in Reno who has never really done any significant online advertising. He doesn’t have much of a presence now, and he doesn’t have an enormous budget to compete against the huge Nevada advertisers. And there are certainly people paying $40,000 or $50,000 a month on SEO.
So, he asked me what we can do, and we had a conversation about the nature of his practice. It turns out that in Nevada, not many lawyers want medical malpractice cases. It turns out also that this particular lawyer had a lot of experience representing people who came down with sepsis where the doctors didn’t treat it correctly. That’s a very niche field. This is something he was very good at, had a lot of experience in, and very few people did, and cases that he wanted to attract.
So, we decided to build out, and we’re in the process of finishing, a lot of content around sepsis and medical malpractice. And even if others come in to compete, they’re certainly not going to invest the same resources into that field as he will. We’ve already started to see some success with that, and leads are starting to come in the door.
It’s that sort of focus on the client, the real micro focus on what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis. You have to understand their practice. I’m also a licensed lawyer in the state of Illinois, so I understand their practice in ways that somebody who’s not a lawyer may not understand.
ROB: That experience you have as a lawyer, your licensing as a lawyer, is that what has kept your focus on law? Have you ever been tempted to – there’s other local advertisers, whether it’s air conditioning, basements, plumbers, etc., who have I think similar battles. What has kept you in the legal lane?
RAFI: That’s a really good question. The truth is that I don’t bring a distinct competitive advantage outside of the law. If I were to go sell to a plastic surgeon – and they certainly have a lot of money to spend on their advertising – or sell to HVAC guys or plumbers or any of them, I don’t bring with me any inherent competitive advantages that my clients don’t have. Obviously, I know the technical end of it, and we have the coders and the designers and everything else, but so does everybody else.
Only in the law do I really bring something that few other people, few other agencies have, and that’s an intimate knowledge of what they do, because I’ve been doing it for 20+ years. Because I’m a lawyer and I’ve represented people, I really understand what they do, how they do it, and how to position them. So yes, while it is tempting, and maybe I could make more money if I did websites for people other than lawyers, it’s just not my comfort zone. I really understand the law so well that it doesn’t make sense to do much else.
ROB: Rafi, to understand a little bit – it’s not entirely a typical path. Most people don’t go to law school to start a digital agency. What is the origin story of Market JD? What took you out of the day to day practice of law? What made you want to learn and build a team around you that understands things like SEO and SEM and everything else you have to do to make things work?
RAFI: That’s a really interesting question. I didn’t go directly from the practice of law into running an agency. I practiced law for about six years, and then I had a real desire to sell. I’ve always loved working with people, and I just love the selling process and I love engaging people. So, I took a job with Thompson Reuters and I sold for FindLaw and Westlaw for a number of years.
Then I decided to go back and get my MBA, and then when I got my MBA, I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and it was at that time that I started Market JD. We do largely the same things that my former employer does, FindLaw. We do the same sort of things that they do; we just like to think we do it better.
ROB: Got it. So somewhere along the way, between some growing coincidence, between having practiced yourself, between competing in the market, you saw a set of ingredients, you made a little bit of a bet on yourself – and then who were your next coupe of hires? Who are the first couple of people that an attorney goes out and hires to build a firm like this?
RAFI: I think if I could do it over again, the one thing that I would do differently is I would’ve hired more people quicker. I was a little too conservative in who I hired in the initial years, and potentially didn’t grow as fast as I could’ve if I had hired more staff. I think I wasn’t as confident as I am now in my ability to succeed. I was always worried that I would run out of money, and it never happened. I had more clients than I had necessarily people to do the work. So, I certainly would’ve hired people quicker.
I think what happened was it was a lot of on-the-job training. I hired people as I saw the need. I knew I couldn’t design, and I knew nothing about design, and I knew nothing about coding. So I surrounded myself with the best people I can and the people I need to get the job done. It was need-based hiring.
ROB: Got it. That certainly becomes an interesting path. In terms of running out of money, I have done that; I don’t recommend it. It’s not the most fun. We did make all the money back and then some, so it’s okay.
When you look at yourself now – you said you’ve learned a little bit about hiring more. Obviously, you can’t hire unlimited, so how do you think about, now, with experience in mind, when is the right time to hire?
RAFI: I think that story has changed as the labor market has changed. At this point, where I find great talent in an area that I know I’m going to need, I hire for that even if I don’t necessarily have enough work to fill that person’s plate. It just so happens that when you hire great people, you find work to give them, and it’s often profitable work because when they’re good, it enhances your service and you tend to sell more of the things that you can do better.
I think the question you asked me was, how do I know who to hire. I’m always looking. We recently hired a Head of SEO. I wasn’t initially planning on hiring her, but I did find an article that she had written, and I thought it was so well done and it was so technically complete that I reached out to her and I asked her if she’d be willing to do some consulting. One thing led to another, and she’s now our Head of SEO.
So, it’s more about availability than it is about necessarily our needs. It’s becoming very hard to find the right people, and I know I’m not the only employer to say that.
ROB: For sure. It’s hard to find the right people. It’s hard to find sometimes the sorts of versatile people who can and will wear multiple hats. I think that’s interesting; you’ve probably had some choices as you’ve grown. SEO probably has not been a choice. You’ve probably had to do that for a very long time. How have you considered, though, which service areas you should engage in? Are there some that you haven’t? Are you in television? Are you in out-of-home? How deep do you go in social? How do you think about those kinds of decisions?
RAFI: The traditional media is not something I had experience in or knowledge in. I’ve thought many times about doing it, because oftentimes the people who sell traditional media add digital services to their menu of choices. So I’ve often thought of adding traditional media to my set of choices, but I haven’t, largely because it’s out of my comfort zone. I would have to bring in people, and I would be doing it just for the sake of growing.
I have enough troubles in my life without taking on something that I don’t know particularly well, so I’ve chosen just to be a digital agency and do that better than my competitors. And I think it’s that laser focus and doing one thing well that’s been a great recipe for us. It’s worked for us.
ROB: Sure. There’s a certain discipline to knowing what segment you play in. I’m sure many firms have started in the legal world, and many of them really have that appetite to go as far upmarket as they can, as fast as possible. They want to buy the side of every bus, the front of every billboard, all of those things. How do you think about what firm size is too big for Market JD right now? How do you think about that decision?
RAFI: When it comes to digital advertising, I don’t think there is a firm that’s too big for us in our space. It’s when they have needs beyond that. Now, certainly we have partners we can bring in, but I don’t pretend to claim that they’re part of the Market JD business. They’re just our partners if they need them.
But when it comes to digital advertising, this is what we do best. If the largest PI firm in America came to us, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t help them with their needs. We represent people, or we do the digital advertising for solo practitioners, and we do it for 75-people personal injury firms, and everything in between.
ROB: That’s certainly a range. Once you have 75 attorneys, I don’t want to pay those bills, I know that. That’s a sizable firm there.
You mentioned a little bit about perhaps a desire to have hired a little quicker. As you think about other lessons you may have learned while building the firm, what might something else be that you wish you’d done differently if you could rewind the clock a little bit?
RAFI: Yeah, definitely hiring quicker. Most certainly it would be also doing more internet marketing for Market JD. It was always ironic, I thought, that I’m selling lawyers internet marketing, but I’m not promoting my own wares on the internet. We ignored it because I had such a nice base of connections from my years working as a lawyer and my years selling as a salesman at Thompson Reuters. I had such a great base of people to call on that I really didn’t need to do a lot of internet advertising.
In hindsight, I think that was a mistake. I probably would’ve more aggressively done it, and that’s what we’re just beginning to do now. But you know what? In some regards, I always thought it was better to have fewer clients and do a better job for fewer clients than it is to grow as fast as I can and see the quality diminish. I’ve seen too many of my competitors with fantastic salesforces, far better than anything I have, that win the business but don’t have the resources to put into each client, and the mistakes that they made were just embarrassing.
I never wanted to be that guy, so I never wanted to grow any faster than I had the capacity to do a great job for them.
ROB: Your team is so focused. When you’re out there marketing for these firms, you know who their ideal customer is; you’re thinking about how to reach them, and to a certain extent, it sounds like you’re intuitively selling to people you know, to people you know that you know, some referrals.
What did it look like? Did you all actually sit down and formulate a picture of your customer and their journey separate from their customers and their journey? Or how did you get clarity on the target you are marketing to as a firm, how you reach them, and how you separate that from the everyday of working with all these other firms, knowing you’re trying to reach an individual consumer?
RAFI: I think for every small business, to a large extent the direction of the business is set by the needs of the clients. So, if you listen to what the clients say and you really don’t just hear the words, but take it to heart, then their needs will dictate the services that you provide.
We don’t just sell technical expertise or a set of tools or any particular solution. What we’re really trying to communicate to the lawyers we sell to is, tell us what your issues are, tell us what your end objectives are, and then let us work backwards and figure out the best way to address those and achieve those ends. I think if you listen to the client, they’ll help you. They’ll direct the solution because your solution will be based on their needs and their objectives.
ROB: Rafi, now that you’re at the level you’re at, now that you’re looking ahead a little bit, what’s coming up for Market JD and the type of work that you do that’s exciting? What’s the next frontier, maybe the next place you think you might hire for that you don’t know yet you’re going to hire for?
RAFI: I think we’re just in the initial stages of really expanding and taking what we do best, but doing it in a bigger way, hiring many more SEO content writers who can really focus in on longtail search.
What’s happening in SEO is that when you run a search for the broadhead terms – “Chicago injury lawyer” or “Nevada workers’ compensation lawyer” – the search results are so dominated by paid ads at the top that even if you appear organically in the map section or beneath that, the probability of you getting much traffic or cases from appearing well there isn’t too great because you’ve got Google Local Service ads at the top and then you have Google Ads below it. It really takes up a significant portion of the top of the screen, especially on mobile. The SEO isn’t going to be of great benefit to the lawyers.
But those same ads don’t always appear on the longtail searches, and there are so many of those longtail searches. So the great race right now – it’s no secret, but the great race is to capture the longtail searches, and the better we are at that, the better off our clients are going to be in the end, the more benefit we’re going to bring them. That’s the race these days, the longtail searches.
ROB: That would seem to also align with maybe the capacity of the big firms that target those searches as well. There’s some stuff that’s longtail, they’re not going to have keywords targeted against it, they’re not going to be SEOing for it either. But you mentioned some of those niches that are special to the firm, that is an individual strength, particular types of cases, that then become the opportunity.
RAFI: That’s exactly right. The corners that the big guys don’t see.
ROB: Are you the only attorney in the firm at this point?
RAFI: No. Actually, there are – let me see, three of us that I can think of right away. I’ve got to think through it, but we have at least three attorneys here, and two of them are editors. We’re very careful about what we write about on the law. We don’t ever want to misrepresent or get something wrong on the law, so I thought it would be a great idea to hire lawyers as editors. So two of my editors are in fact lawyers.
ROB: Certainly, you get into some of these compliance areas, it certainly makes sense to have some expertise there. I think we’ve heard this a few times on the podcast – when it comes around the medical space, there’s a similar level of depth, attention, compliance, and danger that leads to specialization and helps keep any little upstart two-person shop in town from coming after you too hard.
RAFI: That’s right. Really, for me, if I was just a general web shop, I could practice law and do better financially than I could if I were just selling to the local businesses. But it’s really the deep specialty that we have that allows us to serve the personal injury and workers’ comp lawyers in ways others can’t.
ROB: Very interesting. We’ve been hiring in a bunch of states; I’ve learned a lot about workers’ comp that I didn’t want to know, but you might know better than that. [laughs] We use a PEO; we had the privilege of buying our own policy from the state of Ohio because they don’t like the PEO’s policy. Something new in every state. That’s you and your clients to figure out for the most part, I think. Unless there’s any other states you know we should really put our heads on the swivel for, because I’d be curious.
RAFI: This is for your own company?
ROB: Yeah. Are there any other states with really weird workers’ comp regimes? Because Ohio seems unique in its specialness.
RAFI: [laughs] Most states have their own peculiarities, and it’s often changing, so I can’t claim I know every state’s. But yes, it’s definitely an area where there are differences between the states.
ROB: Fascinating. A very interesting area, and it keeps some lawyers employed, for sure. Rafi, when people want to find you and find out more about Market JD, where should they go to find and connect with you?
RAFI: The easiest way is pick up the phone and call me, (312) 970-9353, or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s Market JD like Juris Doctor.
ROB: Excellent. Good to have that. I encourage folks to find and connect with Rafi if you need some of their help. Other than that, Rafi, thank you so much for joining the podcast, for sharing your journey. We’re very grateful. Thank you.
RAFI: Rob, thanks for having me. I appreciate being on.
ROB: Excellent. Be well.
RAFI: You too.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email email@example.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.