The Internet is the new yellow pages and if you don’t have your own spot, it’s likely people aren’t taking you seriously or they worry about your firm’s stability, said Brendan Chard, owner of Ann Arbor, Mich., website consulting company The Modern Firm LLC.
“I’ve run into people who don’t have them; they are either brand new or maybe pretty well-established and have had success by word-of-mouth and reputation and think of a website as purely a marketing tool,” Chard said.
“You have to think of it for validation: ‘People know I’m in business and know what I’m doing.’ It’s hard to take anyone seriously if they don’t have a site.”
“Lawyers and small firms who say they don’t need a website because they get all their business from referrals are likely missing out on business,” agreed Elizabeth C. Joliffe, of Your Benchmark Coach, a legal coaching firm in Ann Arbor. “This is because potential clients can’t check them out online after they receive the referral and before they call the lawyer.”
Jeffery W. Lantz, author of The Essential Attorney Handbook for Internet Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, and Website Development Management, said that while a firm may get referrals for potential clients, those potential clients are usually getting two or three lawyer referrals. Those potential clients now tend to go online to check the lawyers out and see their credentials and background.
“If they can’t find you, that’s a problem. They won’t take time to call and let you know you didn’t have a website. They just won’t bother to call you at all,” he said.
Know your goals
“Before you create a website for your practice or firm, be strategic and ask yourself, ‘What’s my goal with my website?’ Know the purpose you want it to serve,” Joliffe said. “Be strategic, think about the nature of your practice, how you originate business and how a website could help you.”
If an attorney wants the site to drive good work to you online, he or she needs to think again before spending $5,000 or more on a website, Joliffe noted. “Lawyer websites aren’t necessarily the best way to get good work online for many kinds of practice areas.”
Rather, an attorney needs to consider whether simply a validation site is needed, where potential clients and referral sources can look at your photo, review your credentials, read about your practice areas, and confirm that you are not fly-by-night.
“If your target market isn’t the market that is Googling for and/or price shopping lawyers, don’t spend thousands of dollars on search engine optimization,” Joliffe noted. “Instead, consider spending your money on professional photography, customized images and branding on your website.
Most lawyers take their resumes and a description of their practice areas and accolades and awards, often from 20 years ago, and say, “‘Go build us a site that looks nice,’” Lantz said.
Some sites communicate with other lawyers but not with potential clients.
“What potential clients want to see is, ‘What can you do for me and what do you charge?’” Lantz said. “We want to put that information, or as much as we can of it, first and foremost. Be client-centered, rather than attorney accolades, awards won and those kinds of things.
Be sure to have a mobile version of your website, include hyperlinks to online articles and cases in your lawyer biographies, spend time on your FAQ page (visitors often use them), and add your law firm and lawyers to Google Maps.
Chard said the standard user rate for mobile apps visiting law firms is about 20 percent, and in more sensitive areas, like divorce or whistleblower practice areas, mobile use goes up to about 30 percent.
Establishing a website
Copying others may be bad when taking tests, but it’s a positive way to figure out what you would like in your own website.
“What I tell people is to look for competing attorneys in their market or even in a different state and see what sites do they like,” Chard said. “And maybe sit down with someone who’s not a lawyer and get their input about what they like and don’t like.”
When you find other firms’ sites you like, contact the Web designer. who is almost always listed on the bottom of the site.
Use an open-source Web construction. He suggested WordPress, which, he said, now powers 19 percent of all websites on the Internet. If a Web design company builds a site with proprietary programming, chances are that if you decide to leave that company, a whole new site will have to be built. The old company wouldn’t necessarily be obliged to turn it over.
With an open source resource like WordPress, he said, a transition can be as easy as replacing the Web host and continuing on.
Buying your own domain name is critical, and it’s cheap – only about $10 to $30 a year, Lantz said.
And spend the money for professional photos, Joliffe said. Nothing says amateur like a fuzzy photo of you in your cardigan.
Do it yourself or go with a pro?
Joliffe and Chard disagree about whether a lawyer or firm should to try to build a site themselves.
Joliffe said for a solo or small firm, a simple but effective site can be built without professional help in many cases. She suggested in either case that WordPress is probably the best first option.
Chard, who builds sites and consults in website design, suggested that you’ll get a more professional-looking site with help.
He said anyone can build a site maybe with a little help for less than $500.
In the $1,000-$3,000 range, you will find someone with the technical competence to build a good site, but generally not get a lot of insight about marketing or much specialized knowledge about the legal profession.
In the $4,000-$10,000 range, Chard said, “Then you’re working with a company understanding it all: understanding marketing, layout, what the practice of law is all about,” he said.
Best practices for lawyer websites
- Avoid buzz words and overused phrases like “trusted adviser,” “client centered” and “responsive.” If you have done your homework and reviewed a lot of law firm websites, you will see these phrases. Do you want to blend in or stand out?
- Consider including a video on your site. Talk about why you practice in your practice area. Clients hire people they know, like and trust. Help them get to know you.
- Your home page should clearly state what you do. It also should be welcoming and easy to read.
- Your contact information should be easily accessible from any page.
- Don’t give advice on your website.
- Do not hold yourself out as a specialist.
- Have professional photographs of all of your lawyers and the rest of your team.
- Include testimonials if appropriate on certain pages, including the home page, and throughout the website. Testimonials help clients connect with a lawyer. Include appropriate disclaimers about results not being guaranteed.
- Avoid looking like a template website, or like every other website, with images of a gavel, courthouse, empty conference room, puzzle piece, etc.
- Make a list of adjectives you want your practice to look and feel like – traditional, energetic, colorful, contemporary, edgy, filled with people, local, et cetera. Share those with your Web designer or keep them in mind when designing your own site.
Source: Elizabeth C. Joliffe, Your Benchmark Coach
Gary Gosselin is editor of Michigan Lawyers Weekly.