Extras - Internet Roundtable #3 : A Continuing Discussion of Law Firm Marketing on the Internet - Is a "bad" law firm Web page b
By Jerry Lawson, Published on September 14, 1999
Jerry Lawson is the author of The
Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers (ABA 1999). Mr. Lawson operates the Internet Tools for Lawyers Web site.
Brenda Howard is the owner of CreativeWriting.com, LLC, a Web design firm in the Metro DC area. Ms. Howard is also a
Corporate Software Trainer specializing in the Internet.
Dennis Kennedy is the Director of Legal Technology for NetTech, Inc., a St. Louis, Missouri based legal technology and Internet
consulting firm, lawyer, and frequent speaker and writer on Internet topics for lawyers.
Link to LLRX.com Marketing Resource Center
Dennis Kennedy (DK): A
number of people have asked me this question recently. Unfortunately, the conversation has
usually stemmed from someone reading one of my articles. The person says that they
understand that "content is king" and the importance of "dynamic" Web
pages, but they also feel that their firm cannot provide good content or dynamic features
or other reasons to return to the site more than once. As a result, they don't think they
can do a Web site at all.
No, no, no! Get a page out there! While I'm not going to back away too much from the
elements of a successful site that should be your goal, it is more important than ever to
be a player on the Internet. With rare exceptions, every Web site started from modest, if
not embarrassing, origins. The difference now is that the bar, for large firms especially,
has been raised.
But by using a standard Web page template from a program like Microsoft FrontPage or
even a standard Martindale-Hubbell Web site, you can put together an attractive,
functional starter site pretty easily.
Jerry Lawson (JL): Certainly Dennis is
right, but this question, "Is a bad Web page better than no Web page at all," is
more complicated than it might appear at first.
My first reaction to the question is: "What do you mean by 'bad'?" It is
probably better to have no site than a site that contains elementary spelling errors,
glaring technical mistakes and so on.
On the other hand, don't assume that simple sites are "bad." A simple
brochure-type site may not be a client magnet, actively attracting large numbers of new
clients, but if it is tastefully done, it can benefit your firm.
Of course, the ideal site should have plenty of good "content" AND be
"dynamic," but if you have to choose between the two, it's better to have good
content that's seldom updated instead of garbage that's fresh every day.
Even if you can't update it frequently, try to have "content."
DK: Discussions with many lawyers lead me
to believe that people get confused over the notion of "content." Too often,
they think in terms only of previously-published articles and seminar handouts.
"Content" can take many forms.
JL: This is a great observation. It
reminds me of one law firm whose best content was a searchable database of jury verdicts
in a particular area. This attracted attention - and referrals from other law firms.
Another example: some law firms provide free, downloadable copies of government forms
in PDF format. This is particularly popular with immigration lawyers (Greg Siskind was the
first I know to do this. His Web site is at http://www.visalaw.com).
This is a form of public service that benefits the lawyer providing it because it gives
prospective clients a reason to visit the lawyers Web site, where they will learn
about the paid services available from the lawyer.
DK: Good examples. Consider your
audience's needs when creating content. Some of the traditional categories of content,
such as "law review" articles, may not be what potential clients are looking
JL: Many types of "content" can
be used appropriate, but if you want your site to actively attract new clients (instead of
just being a brochure), some form of content is indispensable.
Most lawyers today pay lip service to the concept, but few really understand what good
"content" is and how it works. You can see the proof by looking at the typical
law firm Web site. A lot of law firms think they have the "content" card covered
if their site contains what appears to be a more or less randomly selected group of
articles written by their firm's lawyers. This approach misses the mark badly.
Here's an example that shows, in an understandable way, why content is so essential:
After getting mediocre results from a few years of print advertising, a Maryland lawyer
I know decided to put up a Web site not too long ago. It was not a brochure-type site, but
was "problem oriented," with a lot of information about specific issues that the
lawyer handled regularly. Within a short time, he had gotten eleven new clients, some of
them high quality. Some of these new clients told him that they had visited the sites of
many other Maryland lawyers before deciding to hire him instead. Why did they reject all
the other lawyers and select him? One of the new clients explained:
"You were the only one out there that seemed to know anything about my type of
That's why you need content.
If you want to actively attract new clients, you need to show prospective clients that
you understand the type of problem that they are interested in. Decide what type of client
you are trying to attract. If you "stock the pond" with material about the legal
issues that interest the type of client you are trying to attract, you will more
frequently hear the magic words, "You were the only one that seemed to know anything
about my problem."
Brenda Howard (BH): This is the point
where I get to confess that I'm an idealist. There was a time when I only wanted my
clients to have the very best. I know what they need to do to be successful and I didn't
want to settle for anything less. They needed to be committed to providing valuable
content on their site that would change daily, weekly or, at a minimum, monthly. This
ensures new visitors and repeat visitors.
At least, this was my view until I had a client say to me. "Brenda, I really want
you to design my site, but I honestly cannot afford to go all out. Can't I just start
small? Wouldn't that be okay?"
I realized that the client was correct. Much like buying a car, we don't always get the
luxury model as our first purchase. It isn't until the dollars allow us the luxury that
leather interior becomes the norm. Until then, you must still have a car or you won't be
able to go anywhere. The Internet is the same way. Even if your site doesn't have all the
bells and whistles, you should still have one as a resource.
JL: The car analogy is great.
With an increasing number of clients and potential clients, you are not
"real" until you are on the Internet. A truly "bad" site, with garish
graphics, spelling errors, and so on may indeed be worse than no site, but a simple site
is not necessarily bad, and is better than nothing.
So, Dennis and Brenda, what conclusions do you draw from all this?
DK: Get out there and get started. Let
your site evolve as you respond to the traffic you get and the needs of your target
market. The so-called "brochure" sites are not ideal, but they make it so
Internet users can find information about your firm, bios and the like. You may not be
sending the best message about your firm, especially to law students you want to recruit,
but at least you are in the game. Not having a page makes you look like you missed the
whole game. Brenda?
BH: We're using two different analogies
here, but Dennis and I both are in agreement, get in the ball game so that you can play or
buy that car so that you can drive. Either way, if you're not on the Internet with a site,
your law firm doesn't exist in the virtual world and potential clients cannot reach you.