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Faulkner's Practical Web Strategies for Attorneys: Four Ways to Enhance Your Firm Website

By Frederick L. Faulkner IV, Published on July 15, 2006

Continuing my series on how to build and manage your firm's website, to date I have written on how to find a Web host and register a domain name, hire a website designer, and now how to enhance your website. Each enhancement can be implemented on its own, but at the end of each column, I provide you some ways you can tie them together to give your visitors and clients a valuable resource.

Create Client Portals

A great way to add value to your website on behalf of your clients is to create an exclusive area just for them. I'll refer to these areas as client portals. The portal can be implemented in a variety of ways, and depends on a multiple factors that make sense for your firm. Two basic types of portals you can create are:

One portal for all clients. This makes sense if your firm is very focused on one type of law. A focused practice will allow you to maintain one overall client area.

Multiple portals based on topical areas of law you practice. With the wide availability of RSS feeds from news and legal sources, it is not difficult to create any type of portal to meet client's needs.

Regardless of which type you choose to build, you can enhance each portal even more with additional industry information, resources, and check-lists for your clients based upon that area of law. When creating your client portal, it is important that you meet their needs based on the type of services you provide them.

There are pluses and minuses to creating client portals. Creating portals by industry for multiple clients access could make it easier for you to maintain, as you can provide analysis of new laws or legal news in those industries and apply them to many clients. If you create personalized portals for each client, you may find you are doing more work to keep each of them updated.

Add Rate Information

This enhancement may seem to go against the grain of every service based website in the world, but it is one that works. Potential clients, especially those who are not used to purchasing legal advice and services, are always intimidated by how much legal advice will cost. Knowing that legal advice can be expensive, many potential clients shop around. Having rate information on your website with a statement that the published rates are an approximation of what the total cost could, be speaks volumes. This gives the client up front information about how much your service costs and whether or not they can afford you.

The upside to publishing your rates is that your clientele will be more qualified to pay for your service than others may be. The downside is that you are publishing your rates so your competitors down the street can see them. Ultimately it will be how you serve your clients and manage their expectations that will result in repeat business and spread the word about your services.

Give Them Something For Free First

A classic marketing technique commonly used on websites is giving away something for free to bring users back to you in future. Examples: divorce attorneys can provide general top ten things you need to know about divorce law in your county or jurisdiction; real estate lawyers can provide concise checklists on what you will need to bring with you to perform a real estate transaction if you are selling by owner.

Ask yourself, "What can I provide in a reasonable amount of time that will bring people to my website?" Is it a copy of an article you wrote for your bar journal? Is it a whitepaper of most frequently asked questions and answers of an area of law you practice? Are you a copyright and patent lawyer? Make available the top ten things an inventor needs to know about filing for a patent with the US Patent Office. Then of course you can provide information at the end on how your firm can help clients through the process.

The information you use as your freebie is information you wouldn't mind sharing in other settings. The information you provide is not necessarily legal advice, but rather an explanation of the law or facts about particular legal transactions. Often if a consumer finds information valuable that is provided for free, the consumer will go back to that information provider for more information and consider them a reliable source.

Add a Blog and/or an e-Newsletter

I've noted this tip before and I will say it again, adding a blog to your website is a great addition if you are looking for an outlet to create new content. Blogs are a relatively easy way for attorneys to publish new content on websites via a Web based form content system. By applying categories to entries, you can dictate where content is published, such as to a client portal or to the firm homepage. There are pluses and minuses to blogs. The pluses are that if you write with a personal voice you provide transparency into your firm and demonstrate that you are knowledgeable in the areas of law you practice. There are many successful legal blogs that are part of firm websites that make a very good case to launch a blog. PHOTSITA is one example.

PHOSITA is the firm blog for intellectual property firm Dunlap, Codding and Rogers, PC in Oklahoma, OK. PHOSITA is co-authored by firm attorneys Douglas Sorocco, J. Matthew Buchanan, and Laura C. Wood. These attorneys write new content on a regular basis. Sometimes it is just a few lines linking to other sources. Other times they publish long opinions on the current state of trademark law. The content is published on PHOSITA is also syndicated to the firm's homepage. This syndication brings new content to the front of their Web site that demonstrates their lawyers are knowledgeable in new patent and trademark law developments.

Coupling your new blog with an e-newsletter is a vehicle to deliver new content to your clients or potential client's inbox. Firms who can take snippets of their blog posts and insert them into regularly published e-newsletters give readers a reason to come back to their respective websites.

Strategic Ways to Implement Them

So you've read about a few ways to enhance your law firm website. Each suggestions can be an enhancement on its own, but if you really want to leverage your firm's site, you can combine them to go from "brochure ware" to a content driven-client serving powerhouse. Here's some ways you can do it.

Note you will most likely need some assistance from your Web developer or IT department to accomplish some if not all of these at once.

Adding a Blog. Adding a blog to your website can be accomplished on a variety of levels. You can have a completely separate look and feel, add some branding elements such as color and a header (like PHOSITA does) or completely integrate your firm's website design. Depending on your skill level and resources will determine which one of these you will tackle. Using the RSS syndication feature of blogs will allow you to add a quick JavaScript to your firm's homepage or portal page to add abstracts or links to new blog content when it is published.

Blogging software can vary from free to commercial style products. Free versions include WordPress, and a support-free MovableType. Fee versions include TypePad and Expression Engine. No matter what solution you go with, the concepts described above and in the Creating Client Portals will be able to be accomplished as each have syndication feeds as built in features.

Creating Client Portals. This enhancement is probably the most difficult one to implement, but will give you a great client resource and value to your firm's website. Creating a client portal is a matter of identifying content feeds (RSS feeds) from major news outlets like CNN, Topix, Law.com, Reuters, and other topical based sites that can narrow down to very specific content that you can leverage.

Say for instance you represent clients in the construction industry. Identifying topical sources that apply to those clients that syndicate out to RSS feeds will be key. By utilizing a simple XML to HTML JavaScript you can import the content feeds onto a client portal page seamlessly. Using the same technique you can import a Construction category content feed from your newly established blog that will only add new blog content posts that are in Construction category to the same portal. Those blog posts should be about developments in the construction industry that you are monitoring (via RSS feeds) and your legal opinion on how those developments affect your clients and their work.

Add an e-newsletter component to your client portals using content from your blog posts and highlights over the last week in your industry and you will not only keep your clients updated, but you will also keep your firm in the front of their minds, so when they see an issue arise they need your advice on, they will call you immediately because they know you are up to speed on the issue.

The final key to client portals is password protecting them so that they are only accessible to your clients.

Free Downloads and E-Newsletter Subscriptions. The other enhancement that you can add to your public facing website is the ability to download a certain checklist, whitepaper, or tips list when you subscribe to your new monthly firm e-newsletter. You will start to develop a potential client list with new opt-in subscriptions as well as a way to regularly communicate with them via your e-newsletter. There you can highlight success stories, local and state developments in the types of law you practice, and indirectly (or directly) solicit your services.

One of the quickest ways to develop an opt-in subscription list is to use a third party campaign and management solution such as Email Labs, CheetahMail, or Campaign Monitor. The other non-fee way is to utilize e-mail distribution lists through discussion list software like Mailman. This will allow subscribers to manage their preferences; you can set up multiple types of lists, and globally manage subscribers.

As with any solicitation, communication list or your website, check your state advertising and ethics rules, as well as the ABA model rules before implementing any of these enhancements. Specifically, with your new e-mail lists, be aware and conversant with CAN-SPAM laws, opt-out procedures, and compliance rules before sending your first e-communication.

Conclusion

Enhancing your website beyond a static "brochure-ware" Web presence can add tremendous value to your existing clients as well as bring in new ones. By giving your clients exclusive areas of content specific to their needs, you will not only demonstrate you care about their problems, but that you want to solve them, or even prevent future ones.

Next month I will explore different types of Web content management systems that you can implement to run your website and take advantage of some of the enhancements discussed in this article.