The Google ad infrastructure powers more than half of all ads on the Internet. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone still breathing today! (In second place is Facebook; and number three is a distant, distant vague competitor.)

It’s surprising, though, that Adwords is vastly underutilized by lawyers. Why is that?

It seems to us, here at FTW, that there are three likely culprits. One is that lawyers, as classic high-end professionals, don’t like to be the “ambulance chasers”: those who aggressively try to get clients (and “advertising” in non-lawyer-focused venues has traditionally been considered “aggressive”) are widely looked down on. A second reason is that lawyers tend to be very careful about complying with ABA Rule 7.2b and other regulations that, with only a slight oversight, could potentially result in them getting disbarred. A large chunk of lawyers tend to get their work from other lawyers, not directly from clients.

What’s the solution? To use the Google ad infrastructure… with care. Or work with professionals who are experts in Google ads for lawyers (hint, hint!).

That said, here are some general tips we’d definitely recommend to any lawyer or law firm considering using Adwords:

First, Google Adwords has two general categories of ads: “Search” (on the google.com and partner search result pages) and “Display” (those ads displayed on other sites; such as random ads you see on other pages online). With Display ads, you have controls that can be as granular or as general as you need to manage what other pages your ads appear on. It makes sense to use the granular version of the controls to ensure that you don’t appear on any sites that your firm’s brand wouldn’t be proud to be associated with.

Second, don’t send visitors to your firm’s front page. Rather, create a targeted page on your site, aimed at what you know about that user (such as, based on the keyword he’s arriving from) that you could use to target him. Most targeted traffic arrive at a firm’s front page and then… don’t know what to do.

Third, for Display ads (still those that appear on other sites), Google is moving away from “keyword” targeting (what word is associated with the page the visitor is on, or their recent browsing history) and more towards a Facebook-style audience definition. Google is investing massively in the new method, and make these audiences as tight as possible.

Fourth, for search ads, don’t forget to use “extensions”: they’re not obvious, in the interface or in the mind of a many who run Google ad campaigns, but they give you substantially more real estate on the results page.

Fifth, to ensure you don’t come close to violating any ABA regulations, don’t work with any firms that charge success fees. Even if they insist it’s kosher, it may come too close to the borderline for comfort, from the eyes of anyone who wants to ensure they never have problems with the ABA.

Sixth, and finally, ensure all Display ads are consistent with your brand’s look and feel. Often, firms hire outsourcers for pennies on the hour to create generic ads that have generic sales phrases and certain keywords in them. This may or may not — sadly, the reason why this market exists is because often such methods work — but you want to ensure that the visual appearance of your collateral is consistent with your brand. The trick is to avoid the trade-off between the “looking good” and “being effective” (too often a debate on marketing teams!) by very carefully balancing that fine line of effective-but-looks-good. Or at least good enough.

We had hoped to get to eleven suggestions today, but alas the clock is ticking and we’ll share five more another day.