Dennis Kennedy is a lawyer in theIntellectual Property and Information Technology Department of Thompson Coburn, LLP in St. Louis. Many of his articles on Internet and technology topics may be found at his web site.
Covering the effect of the Dot-Com crash on law firm marketing, resource centers as narrowcasting, getting news coverage for your site and your firm, "quality hits" and more.
Brenda Howard (BH): This is the right time to recognize our regular panelist, Dennis Kennedy, who just received selected the most prestigious prize in the 2001 Technolawyer Community awards, "TechnoLawyer of the Year."
Jerry Lawson (JL): Congratulations, Dennis, that’s some nice, and well-deserved, recognition.
Dennis Kennedy (DK): Thanks. Let’s start off this month by making our guest panelist, Mark Pruner, one of the country’s most innovative and consistently effective law firm web site developers, take the first shot at a real hardball question:
With the recent decline in the prices of technology stocks, "dot-com" has become a dirty word in some circles. How should this affect the way law firms think about or invest in the Internet, if at all?
Mark Pruner (MP): I think you will see two effects. First for those partners who have been brought kicking and screaming to the Net. The dot-com downturn will give web resistant partners a chance to say "I told you so" to the Net advocates. Second, firms will see less income from M&A and finance work for dot-com clients. At the same time there will be an increase in bankruptcy work, but it will not offset the diminution of other work, since dot-coms usually have so few physical assets. What we are seeing is that traditional companies that move into the Internet space can develop substantial e-business very quickly. Some firms are developing new services, but I think many firms will use this downturn as an excuse to pull the plug or go even slower, when what it really does is present a great opportunity to make news and to get in front of your competitors.
BH: I agree that the current situation has opened the doors for the "I told you so" group. My only hope is that law firms don’t "buy into" this downturn as a reason to decrease or drop their web based marketing efforts. Any business that doesn’t have a strong business model is doomed to fail. It happens all the time. Everyone acts so surprised that it has happened with the dot-coms. They shouldn’t be. The most popular business model is the advertisement driven model and it simply doesn’t work because the advertising dollars aren’t there. This does not apply to law firms and they shouldn’t get caught up in the "scare tactics" that are going on right now.
DK: First of all, I want to thank all those dot-coms who took the risks to drive the development of the Internet faster than any of could have predicted. I agree with Brenda that law firms are looking at a different business model than the dot-coms. While the "right" business models for law firm sites have yet been determined, I doubt that future business school texts will be recommending the "Sitting on the Sidelines" model.
[Laughter and general agreement from the other panelists].
DK continues: There does seem to be a certain glee that we are seeing some retrenchment in the dot-com sector and that the dot-commers are getting their comeuppance. I’m reminded of those early 20th century cartoons showing the Model T stuck in the mud and people yelling "Get a horse!" There’s a long-term view to consider and it’s best to think in terms of "investment." Where the Internet is making the most changes is structurally, in ways most of us don’t yet see. But for those who doubt the ultimate impact, just look at the role the Internet plays for kids today. Sorry, I’ve wandered a bit off topic, but understanding how the Internet works is going to be a better approach than cheering the demise of dot-coms. There are many opportunities on the Internet for law firms willing to take the initiative and I’m sure that Mark can point to some excellent examples.
JL: I concur, and have one more observation, expanding on Dennis’s very apt car analogy. It’s a good answer to those "I told you so" types that Mark noted:
When General Motors was founded in 1908 it had hundreds of competitors, and having the word "Motor" somewhere in your company name then was just as trendy as having dot com in your name has been the past few years. With the benefit of hindsight, we know two things: A. Nearly all those trendy companies went bankrupt, and B. Motor vehicles have revolutionized the world.
I make two predictions with great confidence:
- Nearly all dot com companies will go bankrupt, and
- The Internet will revolutionize the world, including the practice of law.
I stress will revolutionize. When you consider what’s happened already, it’s easy to think that the Internet has already caused big changes, and maybe it has. However, the most important changes are still over the horizon.
Failing to integrate Internet technology into your law practice today would be just as foolish as being scared into buying only horses and buggies decades ago, on the theory that cars must be just a fad, because many car companies had gone under.
DK: Mark, you seem to understand how the Internet works much better than garden variety web site designers. One example is "narrowcasting" and the use of specialized subsites to promote particular parts of a firm’s practice. What you did for Robinson & Coles is a good example of this. What can you tell us about that?
MP: We believe that resource centers are the key to marketing a firm. Most firms have static brochureware web sites, which have minimal ability to be integrated into a marketing campaign. A resource center opens up a variety of marketing opportunities. You can:
- Get press coverage in trade journals
- Post additional seminar materials on-line
- Partner with other firms, other professions or other companies
- Use for on-line presentations
- Develop new services
- Create email lists for daily contact
BH: These are perfect ways to use the Internet as part of an overall marketing program. You’ve managed to place all of these marketing tools into a central tool called the resource center. This is excellent.
DK: Resource centers also acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of people are looking for specific, substantive information and expertise when they come to a law firm web site, and they appreciate finding all it one convenient place. That includes journalists and people looking for speakers for their programs.
JL: Speaking of journalists, Mark has a particular aptitude for attracting favorable press coverage for law firms in publications that potential clients are likely to read. One of the best examples of this is the Anderson Kill & Olick web site.
MP: Anderson Kill has been an interesting client to work with. One concept that we used with them is the expose’. People, and reporters in particular, are always interested in learning something that other people are trying to cover up. Insurance companies have a history of paying plaintiffs extra to get them to vacate judgments that could serve as unfavorable precedents. We posted these disappearing decisions on the Vacatur site and got stories in the Washington Post and several of the legal and insurance trades.
JL: Another interesting feature of the Anderson Kill site is the way it plays up individual Anderson Kill lawyers. For example, on the front page of the Anderson Kill site this morning there is a prominent section about one of their lawyers, Andy Rahl, who was selected one of 12 Outstanding Bankruptcy Lawyers nationwide for the second year in a row by "Turnarounds & Workouts." Magazine. Several other lawyers in the firm are listed by name as well on the front page of the site. Featuring your stars makes so much sense as a promotional tool, but most law firms get so caught up in jealousy and firm politics that they don’t adopt this technique.
BH: The TV magazine 20/20 considered doing a story on the Vacatur site, but couldn’t figure out how to make the story "visual".
DK: That’s something to keep in mind when designing such a site. The graphic design of the site could include visual elements or be put together in a way that could help a TV producer figure out the "visuals" for the story. I think many people would be surprised to find how often journalists find stories on the Web. A focused site that helps tell a compelling story can be especially attractive to a writer on a deadline. I’ve found that I consistently get calls for quotes in stories on legal technology because writers have found my web site and decide that I’m an expert.
JL: The Vacatur concept was brilliant. Among the other publicity benefits, the law firm comes off looking aggressive and innovative, "pushing the envelope" on behalf its clients. Even many potential clients that have benefited from vacatur, like insurance companies, would find a law firm with those qualities attractive.
MP: Another technique we use to get favorable press for our clients is playing into publicity waves. A couple of years ago, the Titanic was fast becoming the highest grossing picture of all time. We put up the Titanic Virtual Trial web site, which got over 150,000 hits a month for almost a full year and tripled traffic to Anderson Kill’s main web site.
BH: I’ve done this before also. The problem that my clients had with this technique is that it generated "hits," but did not result in viable business leads. Meaning that they realized that the hits were coming in, but it didn’t change their bottom line results. Clients seem to want a more specific marketing campaign that brings viable future customers to the site – not just mass "hits".
DK: That points out the important difference between hits and "quality hits." In general, I think that you want quality hits from your target audience, but if, as in the Titanic example, you are getting nearly 2 million hits a year, there’s a good argument that you are developing name recognition that may later be beneficial. Also, even if only a tiny fraction of the total hits are hits from your target audience, you still are generating a good number of quality hits on those kinds of numbers. The key part of the Titanic site story was the tripling of traffic to the firm’s main site.
JL: Thanks, Dennis, for picking up on one of my favorite concepts, "quality hits," a phrase I believe I originated in an article a few years ago on LLRX.com entitled Client Centered Web Sites. I agree with Brenda that in general there is no point in running up big hit counts just for the sake of getting hits. However, I think what Mark did for that law firm benefited them quite a bit. In addition to the factors that Dennis mentioned, you have to consider that besides attracting significant new traffic to the site, the Titanic material provided "content" that would be viewed by potential clients who were coming to the site for some other reason. For them, the message was: this is not your generic "We are a collegial law firm serving all your corporation’s legal needs," but "We are an innovative law firm that understands technology and knows how to use it." That’s a wonderful message for a law firm to convey.
BH: I think we can all agree on that.
To Be Continued Next Month..