Do tweets and Facebook posts add up to billable hours?

Now that the Internet has displaced the Yellow Pages, many lawyers use social media to try to build their businesses, but few know whether the outreach is effective, legal consultants say.

“The reality is that the vast majority of lawyers just aren’t keeping track,” said Adrian Dayton, a consultant who helps law firms devise strategies for social media.

Avvo Ignite, a new service offered by the legal directory and forum Avvo, aims to change that by letting lawyers see how many inquiries originate from their presences on and offline — and how many yield new clients.

Without monitoring what works and what doesn’t, lawyers struggle to make the most of the new outlets available to them online, said Avvo executive Sachin Bhatia, who researched lawyers’ social media habits before launching the service in November. Rather than sealing the deal, some lawyers spend too much time qualifying clients, he said. Many do not have a sound system for logging their prospects. And some do not get many leads from social media, he noted.

“We saw lawyers spending money to market in places when clients weren’t even there,” said Bhatia, who is vice president of products at Avvo Inc.

The Avvo Ignite Suite is supposed to help attorneys avoid that fate by documenting how each prospect found the firm and then facilitating communication and payment to bring clients on board. Another edition, Avvo Ignite Starter, creates basic websites and monthly activity reports and can be accessed on mobile devices. The Starter edition costs $199 per month with a $499 setup fee that can be waived with a yearlong contract.

Most who have signed up so far are lawyers at small to midsize firms and solo practitioners, Bhatia said. Social media can neutralize the reputational advantage enjoyed by Big Law, consultants note.

“It costs a fortune to launch an ad campaign in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, but not on social media,” law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser said. “Social media levels the playing field for smaller firms.”

And yet some lawyers — particularly those who did not grow up with the Internet — remain skeptical about social media, Zeughauser said. Lewis Rosenblum, an Orange County, Calif.-based criminal defense attorney, once questioned how much he stood to gain through the channels. When he launched his own office four years ago, he relied on the contacts that he made in 29 years as a prosecutor to generate business. Answering questions on Avvo showed him that there were clients to be found online. He now has accounts on Google Plus and Yahoo as well.

“You can generate far more business than it costs you,” said Rosenblum.

Statistics can be illuminating for web-savvy lawyers, too. Carl Shusterman, an immigration lawyer based in Los Angeles, launched his website in 1995 and also uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. The data from Avvo Ignite showed that LinkedIn wasn’t yielding many inquiries. His YouTube videos created a lot of buzz, but Shusterman decided to tweak his content on that channel anyway. He now ends each video by encouraging viewers to schedule consultations.

“The data brings certain business considerations to the very fore of your consciousness,” he said. “If I’m spending tons of time on something, I should find out how to use it more effectively or scratch it because you can’t practice law and do all of this.”

Some consumer-oriented lawyers already use social media to generate the lion’s share of their business, Dayton said. For lawyers who are just starting to dabble online, Avvo Ignite may motivate them to keep at it by showing them the results, even if they are small at first, he noted.

“The reason most lawyers don’t make it past the first 48 hours using social media is because they don’t see anything happening,” he said.