Imagine this: you were on your way to work, driving your recently purchased brand new car. All of a sudden and without any warning, you were hit by another vehicle. You were injured. The emergency services came to the scene, and you are now being treated inside an ambulance by the paramedics. "What am I going to do now?" you thought. "Maybe I should call someone to let them know I am okay... or maybe I should call a lawyer." Now, the question is, who are you going to hire?
Logically, potential clients would reach out to whoever comes first to their mind. The more 'visible' a lawyer or a law firm is, the more well-known and reputable they would appear. Thus, the more resources being invested in marketing and advertisement on TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet, means more clients, right?
Before interviewing Mike, I would say yes. But I am not so sure about this now.
For this article, I conducted a Zoom interview with Michael L. Mandell, Esq., a licensed attorney from California, United States, where he shared his story and experience of embracing the use of social media for his law practice.
LawByMike: Internet's Most Famous Lawyer from Duke
Famously known as LawByMike on TikTok and Instagram, Mike is known as "The #1 Social Media Lawyer" who gives practical legal tips in short videos less than 30 seconds. These short videos have over a combined 52.7 million likes and gained Mike over 4.8 million followers from various social media platforms.
The Los Angeles native went to the University of Southern California, where he studied for his Bachelor's degree in communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Mike then continued his education at Duke University School of Law in North Carolina, where he obtained his Juris Doctorate.
Mike began his legal career at Reed Smith, where he spent seven and a half years primarily doing product liability defence work.
Mike explained that he was not entirely able to market himself while working for Reed Smith. He said, "You're working for a firm with fifteen hundred lawyers, thirty offices worldwide, you have to go through several levels of approval for anything that you want to publicly because the firm is concerned about their image."
Mike's Journey of Law
Nurtured by a family of lawyers, Mike developed a strong interest in the area of the family practice: personal injury.
The tort law had caught Mike's attention at an early age as he would hear stories of how his family helps to get compensation for their clients who suffered from personal injury. "You can't fix their injuries completely, especially when it involves permanent injuries or death. But you can at least help obtain money justice." he said.
Mike explained that it was always his goal to switch over from doing the defence work to be working alongside his family.
"Coming from Duke, you're supposed to work at these big law firms. That's the norm for everyone graduating from one of the top schools in the country," he said. "I thought maybe if I like it, I'll stay there. If I don't, at least I will be learning tricks from the other side, since they are basically defending the people that my family would be suing or potentially suing."
In October 2020, Mike left Reed Smith and joined his family. For the first time, he had the opportunity to start promoting himself.
"TikTok was an untapped market."
"I already knew I wanted to do Instagram, but as I researched, I saw TikTok was an untapped market. There were a few lawyers on it, and they were doing pretty well. But there are not nearly as many lawyers on TikTok as there are on Instagram, which has been around for almost a decade." he said.
You can repurpose the same video you do on TikTok on Instagram. So there's no reason not to do every single social media platform.
According to the latest statistics from SensorTower dated February 6, 2021, TikTok was the second most installed non-gaming app worldwide for the month of January 2021 with close to 62 million installs. In comparison, Instagram is ranked sixth in the overall downloads list.
"Hey! Let's call Mike!"
So the journey of TikTok began for Mike.
"Initially, the goal of going into it, I just thought I'd get my friends to see my face, and then their friends maybe would see it. And if they got in a car accident, I hoped their first thought would be: Hey! Let's call Mike!" he said.
But I also wanted to give tips to people and educate them about the law, so that they can be better-equipped citizens that know their rights and know what to do in real-life situations.
As explained by Mike, his TikTok videos at the beginning were limited to personal injury law. However, as it progressed, he started making videos on different areas of the law, such as criminal defense, class actions, defective products, landlord/tenant law, medical malpractice, workers' compensation, civil rights, police misconduct, family, employment law, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, immigration, business torts, and contract law. "It wasn't my particular focus in practice. But you obviously know the basics. And that's really what people need to know." he said, "The public wants to know their basic rights, such as what the cops can and can't do. Anything that's very complex, you're going to want to talk to an attorney that practices in that field, and I work with such attorneys all across the United States."
On December 17, 2020, Mike uploaded a video on TikTok (watch below) where he shared tips on what to say to a cop when pulled over for speeding. The 15 seconds video alone where he advised on the fundamental rights against self-incrimination had gained nearly 50 million views, with over 9 million likes and over 54 thousand comments in a matter of weeks.
It all just exploded, and it was unexpected.
New Clients: Over 4,000 inquiries in 4 weeks
Mike shared his experience of what happened after he gained sudden popularity. "I had to make a decision because I couldn't work at my family's firm and also attend to all the inquiries and messages I received on my social media platform. I was getting over 4,000 messages in four weeks and also doing the work for my family. My goal has always been to help people and I saw this as an opportunity to help people everywhere." Mike said.
As a lawyer, I was shocked and surprised when I learned about the number of inquiries brought in from just doing TikTok.
As Mike has been receiving inquiries from outside California, he explained that "lawyers can work with other lawyers in different states." and he started making connections with trusted and skilled lawyers from around the country, working with them, sending them cases, making sure that everyone's legal issues are being addressed.
Confidentiality & Privilege
Traditionally, clients would communicate with their lawyers by phone, email or in-person. When it comes to TikTok and Instagram, Mike explained that he works closely with an ethics lawyer who used to work for the American Bar Association for over 30 years to ensure all confidentiality and privilege matters are being dealt with ethically.
"I have disclosures when you message me that make clear the initial messages people send to me doesn't create an attorney-client relationship, etc." Mike said. "Also, if I am not going to take the case, I have drafted messages to say about that as well. Sometimes I even say I will get back to you. But if you don't hear from me within ten days, you can assume I'm not taking the case."
Below is a short video to demonstrate the auto-respond text when a potential client messages Mike on Instagram.
Mike stressed that lawyers should safeguard themselves when communicating with potential clients on social media, "it's the same thing as a phone call, just a different platform."
Mike further explains that when dealing with inquiries, he would tend to get few details about their issue, but not be giving any advice, just learning facts. "If it sounds like something I want to pursue or that I think I can help them with either myself or by working with an out-of-state attorney in my trusted network, I'll set up a phone call or message the individual and get all that information." he said, "This is just about getting the facts and then when people are asking me hypothetical questions; I tend to say I can't answer that because that's legal advice. You don't want to be giving out legal advice to someone that's not your client."
"They didn't understand what was happening when it was happening..."
When asked about how Mike's family reacted to his online activities, Mike responded "They're very excited for me. They're very supportive of me. They are the more traditional generation, so I don't think they understood what was happening when it was happening" as Mike's following was growing exponentially by the day.
"The growth of getting to two million and in six weeks is just unheard of, especially for a lawyer. And so they weren't grasping that at first. But now I think they're starting to understand, especially with all the developments going on in my career, including doing this interview with you, getting interviewed and published in Insider, and giving a keynote speech at Ryerson College in Toronto."
TikTok is NOT just for Kids
If you think that TikTok is just an app for kids and teenagers, Mike would disagree with you.
"People don't realize what this is just yet. They think TikTok is just for kids and teenagers that aren't going to be potential clients. And that's not the case. I've had people reach out to me in their forties who watch TikTok." he said, "It's free advertisement. There's no reason why you shouldn't do that. Law firms are spending all their money on television commercials, radio advertisements, billboards, Facebook ads, Google SEO to market their firm. And if you tap into TikTok and do it right, you're not paying anything except for your time."
Mike had to decide between doing what his family was doing or his own thing. "I saw it as an opportunity to help even more people, which was really my goal from the beginning, helping people and helping them in ways that other people haven't, and this gave me a national reach to help everyone on everything legally related."
Mike decided to depart from his family business and start his own law firm, Michael L. Mandell Law, Inc.
The 'Robin' Behind Mike: Sebastian Paredes (@imsebastianparedes)
Everyone knows that Batman needs a Robin. As for Mike, Sebastian has his back.
Meet Sebastian Paredes (@imsebastianparedes), the Creative Director and Mike's Manager who works closely with Mike.
Sabastian is the creative mind behind all the impressive transitions we see in Mike's videos.
We discuss different topics and ideas and try to figure out what will be popular or resonate with everyone and how to say it in less than 30 seconds.
Mike explained that it is not an easy task to have all the necessary information required to fit in short videos. "You must give useful information within 30 seconds, but can't be misleading or incorrect." Mike said, "It takes a lot of time. I'll be honest, these 30-second videos can take up to two hours from start to finish. But obviously, the time invested is worth it and the fact it helps people learn what I'm passionate brings me a lot of joy"
It's time to embrace the future
Generally, lawyers worldwide would behave conservatively to preserve the image of professionalism. Should the legal profession be further modernised and embrace the use of social media? Mike advised, "Every legal practitioner should embrace social media. It's free, and the only cost is your time. Just be creative and see what other people are doing and look for the trends." He continued, "I wouldn't jump in without a plan or strategy. I would look at what other lawyers or even non-lawyers are doing that is popular on social media, trends that are doing well, etc. Once you understand that a little better, you can start being part of the community. I think it's a wasted opportunity if you don't try social media out at all."
Our interview concluded with Mike expressing his gratitude and appreciation to his followers and fans:
I just want to say that I love you all, thank you for all for the support, I'll be posting more content soon and expanding into new areas that go beyond law, such as negotiation and persuasion tactics. I wouldn't be here without you all. So thank you again for that.
The biggest lesson I learned from Mike is not just to join TikTok and Instagram, but to think outside the box and seize the opportunity whenever it comes up.
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Lawyered.