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.
Q: How can a law firm know whether it will benefit from a Web site?
Jerry Lawson (JL): This one's easy. Nearly every law firm will benefit from having a Web site. If nothing else, there is benefit to merely having your contact information available there.
Brenda Howard (BH): While contact information is extremely valuable and a necessity in this day and age, there's an intangible value that is often not seen until the Web site is in place. I have a client that put some information on his Web site. This is information that he would provide for his prospective clients during an initial "free" consultation. When they call for an appointment, the receptionist directs the client to the Web site and instructs them to read the section pertaining to their need.
What my client has found is that the initial "free" consultation takes half the time of the consultations with clients that were not able to "preview" the information on the site. This saves him valuable time and gets him into the "billable" area of the interview much more quickly. I can foresee a time when a client would complete an online questionnaire and the attorney would preview the information prior to a "face to face" appointment with the client. Where time equates to money, a Web site can save a law firm valuable time, if used properly.
JL: Good point! A few law firms are doing this now, and more will adopt your technique as its advantages become better known.
Dennis Kennedy (DK): We are already starting to see some online client screening on law firm Web sites. There are so many ways to use Web sites for advantage. The Internet is dramatically changing the way all business is transacted. It will have a similar impact on the practice of law. Law firms must have an Internet presence. It's as simple as that.
Putting your brochure and marketing materials on your Web site can save you printing and postage costs. Your Web site can play a major role in recruiting. A Web site can help you develop, expand or target a practice area.
A law firm's Web site should be seen as part of the entire marketing plan. Too many times law firms that have boxes full of expensive and unused brochures will hold off on getting a Web site because they want a guarantee that the Web site will pay for itself. It's important to realize that Web pages can generate cost savings as well as open your firm to the potential of the Internet.
Q: How can a law firm decide what content is appropriate?
JL: First, define the market or markets that the law firm wants to reach. What kinds of clients are you aiming for? Once you have a clear grip on this (and you'd be surprised how many law firms don't) you then decide what type of information will appeal to that market.
Most law firms today are badly missing the point on this. Their sites are like boring cocktail party guests: "I, I, I, Me, Me, Me." They put up information about the law firm, their practice areas, their biographies, maps leading to the firm, and so on. There's nothing wrong with this information. In fact, we'd think something was wrong if it wasn't there, just like we'd think there was something wrong with a cocktail party guest who couldn't talk about himself articulately when appropriate. The problem is that there's nothing else there to attract the attention of potential clients.
Most law firm Web sites are law firm centered. They should be client centered.
BH: Enough said. Jerry has hit the nail on the head with this answer.
DK: Not quite so fast. Jerry is absolutely right about client-focused target marketing and its key role in determining appropriate Web content, but I want to add a couple of other points. Internet users who look at law firm sites are more often on a quest for information rather than a search for a lawyer. A visitor to your site can have an excellent experience if your site either provides the information they seek or routes them to a source where they can get that information. That's why publication of articles, newsletters, fact sheets and other information has always been part of the best legal Web sites. Similarly, routing people to the right sources through links pages can generate a surprising amount of good will and clientele.
Internet users expect to find the information they want for free. They also expect to find a lot of information on any given topic. Knowing this, you have to err on the side of providing "too much" free information rather than too little. This economic paradox is perhaps the most difficult aspect of Internet commerce for most people to "get." When you do understand this point, content decisions become much easier to make.