Patrick Horan and Hugh Phelan run Phelan Solicitors, a niche commercial law and criminal defence practice in Cork city. For former garda Patrick, the area of criminal defence was a natural specialisation.
A UCC English and History graduate, he spent ten years in the force in Carlow and Cork but then transferred to Cork city where he studied law by night before qualifying as a solicitor.
“I know what the gardai are looking for, in bringing a case, therefore I know how to defend that case,” he says of his current practice as a criminal defence lawyer.
As a former garda, it took him a while to win the trust of some of his potential clients who were up on criminal charges.
While building up the practice, Hugh and Patrick saw that digital advertising was cost-prohibitive for a small firm and yielded limited results.
“It was difficult to compete with other more established – and more financially robust law firms – and marketing ourselves on Google was cost-prohibitive,” Patrick notes.
“We knew that there had to be a better, and more affordable, way to compete online.”
Google advertising terms, or ad-words, are priced according to demand, so there is intense competition, and matching price-tags, for online descriptors such as ‘personal injury solicitor’.
Patrick notes that he has seen lawyers leave a credit card open for a Google ad-words spend and charged up to €1500 at the end of each month, with no consequent uplift in business calls.
Each time an internet user browsing for a solicitor clicks on an ad, it costs the advertiser.
However, whether these ‘clicks’ are actually converted into business calls is another matter.
While grappling with the difficult question of how to attract new business to a small firm, Hugh and Patrick met computer scientist Michael English and had a ‘lightbulb moment’ about the power of artificial intelligence to drive potential business into their office.
In late 2018, Patrick and Hugh established Legal Index Ireland, an innovative online digital platform, powered by artificial intelligence.
The platform uses AI to push business content up the Google rankings.
The ‘secret sauce’ is that the posted content features video clips of law firms. Recent algorithmic changes by Google, prioritise ‘rich content’ such as video.
And the web, in general, is moving towards video as a means of consuming information.
In September 2018, a video clip featuring Patrick Horan appeared on page one of Google under the keyword: ‘Best Legal Adviser Cork City’.
“On that day I became the first solicitor in Ireland – and likely anywhere – to feature on page one of Google under a keyword that did not include my own name.
“This was made possible by the AI tech we employ,” Patrick explains.
“We followed up that success with another video on 23 October 2018 under the keyword ‘Best Criminal Law Solicitors in Cork’.
“Again, this video featured myself and since that date it has remained – courtesy of our AI-ranking technology – solidly on page one of Google.”
Early this year, the pair began extensive trials to see whether it would be possible to rank a law firm in Ireland through video as opposed to traditional SEO-driven weblinks.
The tech was polished up until it attracted the attention of Google in Silicon Valley in July.
Legal Index Ireland has now secured a 20-year licence agreement with its AI tech company for the provision of legal services globally. The AI tech company, in turn, are contracted with Google.
The cost to firms wishing to advertise is €230 per month, and Patrick promises that provincial firms seeking a Dublin presence can find it using their technology.
There is a reason that the top firms spend large sums – up to 2% of revenue in some cases – on marketing, Patrick believes.
"They are not doing that for no reason," he says.
A small firm can afford a marketing outlay of €230 per month, he feels.
“The eye is drawn to video,” he says. “If I’m on page one of the Google rankings, I’m visible.”
“Google like this technology because it’s monetizable. People just want to watch videos and we can deliver, at an affordable price, a video that people want to watch,” says Patrick.
Video ranking tools
“We are the only online company worldwide that uses video ranking tools (applicable to the legal sector) which are officially approved and endorsed globally by Google,” says Patrick.
Legal Index Ireland (via its sub-domain: blog.legalindexireland.com/) has the capacity to launch videos globally on YouTube and Google Videos relative to any law firm anywhere.
Each video is specially coded with AI-tech which, in conjunction with Google and YouTube access agreements, means that video clips can get instant high rankings.
Each video contains relevant information of the law firm accompanied by high resolution images.
Each video is ‘backlinked’ to that particular law firm’s own website address, so that every ‘click’ on the video in question on Google or YouTube, yields a corresponding click on that law firm’s own website, creating a significant boost to that law firm’s website SEO.
Each video clip ranks immediately on top of YouTube for the specific keyword in question. In almost all cases that same video clip ranks simultaneously at the top of Google videos.
“Effectively our technology allows law firms of any size to rank alongside or above the largest firms in this country on page one of Google, something previously regarded as impossible due to the staggering costs involved,” Patrick says.
Legal Index Ireland has launched approximately 125 videos with clients in Chicago (‘best corporate law firm Chicago’), United States (‘best corporate law firm United States’), Waterford, Ireland (‘best drink driving solicitors Waterford’), Sydney (‘best corporate law firms Sydney) Zurich and London, as well as Dublin and Cork.
The technology is now market-ready and open for business to law firms across the world.
“At a time when the term ‘artificial intelligence’ has become synonymous with negative connotations, both my business partner Hugh and I have shown that it can be used to drive down business costs for small firms like our own.
This technology gives the smallest of law firms an opportunity to market themselves in an affordable way, Patrick concludes.
Squad car colleagues
Interestingly, one of Patrick’s squad car colleagues from his time on the beat also turned to the law.
Brian O’Shea graduated with distinction from the King’s Inns and subsequently practised on the south east circuit.
He is now a District Court judge in Wexford.
“To me, Brian had an unbelievable ability to retain the law,” says his former colleague.