Most attorneys now understand the tremendous value of the
Internet as a new communications and research medium. As they come
to know and use the "World Wide Web" (hereinafter just the
"Web") as a tremendous information resource, they are
starting to ask whether they should have a Web site for their
practice or firm. Because it’s not a cheap or simple proposition
to set up and maintain a Web site, the first question attorneys
often ask is: "Will it get me more clients?" This is an
understandable question – after all, why spend money on something
that looks and smells like marketing, if not to get more clients?
But it’s the wrong question. And so the best answer to
this question is "No, at least not alone. But you still need a
Web site, and here’s why…"
New Clients is the wrong goal
In the first few years of the proliferation of the
Web—when many attorneys and law firms didn’t understand what
this new medium was—the argument for a Web site was squarely:
"You will get more clients from this. They will see you out
there and hire you. Sign here." And further, the accepted
wisdom was that "Content is King." That is, if you are
going to develop a web site for your firm, you must cram it with
fabulous content (changing daily – or at least weekly) that
will draw crowds of surfers. And if you didn’t do this, you
might as well not have a Web site at all. As the Web has grown,
this has become worse than just bad advice. It’s silly. For
First, perhaps it was the case when the first few law
firms created web sites, that it did in fact draw clients to
them that were impressed with their technological abilities and
forward thinking. As literally thousands and thousands of
attorneys and law firms have joined them on the Web, that
benefit disappeared long ago.
Second, it’s very hard to maintain a Web site with
fresh content on a daily or weekly basis. While we would all
like to think that our practices include some of the most
exciting things that happen in the world, the fact is, it’s
the rare law firm or legal practice that really has a fresh
group of headlines for it’s "What’s New" page on a
weekly basis. And those that do either have to have someone on
staff to update the site, or pay someone outside the firm to do
it on a regular basis. This is not cheap, but it can be done.
And if your site has the kind of content that Sony Pictures
does, or Toyota Motors, it should be done. The vast majority of
legal practices are not that sort of operation.
Third, it makes no sense to build and maintain a Web
site that serves its visitors poorly. And this is the most
important point: Before you start in on this task of preparing a
Web site for your practice or firm, you must ask this question:
"What are people who arrive at this site going to be
For a legal practice, the answer in a majority of cases
is: they will not be looking to "see what’s
new." They will not be hoping to be entertained.
They most likely already know of you or your firm, and so they
will simply be looking for more information about you and your
practice, as a precursor to meeting with you to discuss a
An example: you meet someone at a party or function. You
give him your card (which has a Web site address on it). Months
later, he has a problem, and doesn’t know where to turn. But
he doesn’t want to call you; then he might have to have
lunch, or schedule a meeting, or be embarrassed that he just
wants a little more information before he calls you. So
he picks up your business card (or simply remembers a
distinctive domain name for your site), and goes to your Web
site. He finds out there that you both went to the same College,
or even (perhaps especially) that you both have kids in Little
League. Or that you not only handle Copyright Law (which isn’t
his problem at the moment) but that you also handle Trademark
Law (which is). So now he calls you.
There are, of course, many different types of sites
on the Web, and there will in the future be many other types
that we can’t think of now. But there will always be
"information" sites. These are sites that, for the
most part, provide information about a company, and help
visitors contact them. In the case of a law firm, they do
not try to serve up a treatise on Environmental Law, hoping
to impress someone into hiring them.
As the Web becomes even more ubiquitous,
professional people will expect you to have information
there about yourself and your practice. One day, they will
go looking for it, and be disappointed if it’s not there.
If you have published an article on Lender Liability
law under CERCLA, by all means include it in your Web site.
It will be indexed by the major search engines, and someone
might actually find you that way – out of the blue. But if
you try to build a Web site with the goal that it become the
hot site on the Web for Environmental Law, you’ll spend a
lot of time and money, and likely be disappointed with the
It’s a Business Card
The best way to think about a Web site
for your practice is as an extension of your business
card. On that little piece of paper (typically measuring
2" x 3.5") you can’t fit much information
about yourself. But you can fit an address to your Web
site, where there’s essentially no limit to what you
can describe about yourself, your practice, and your
areas of expertise. No lawyer (or professional of any
kind) can imagine being in business without a business
card. Once we understand how useful a Web site
"extension" of that card can be, we’ll
consider it just as indispensable.
Of course, it’s so much better than a business
card. It can not only fit more information, it can give
a potential client a sense of who you are. But more
importantly, someone can find out more about you without
bothering you, and can easily contact you, via
"light touch" E-mail, rather than a more
intrusive telephone call. An excellent example of this
sort of "extended business card" site for a
Colorado solo practitioner can be found at this Web
Lastly, it’s wise to find synergistic online
communities, and arrange to have them post a link to
your site. Do you specialize in Elder Law? Is there a
senior citizen’s home near you that has a Web site,
and would appreciate your placing a small advertisement
on their site (which is a link to yours)? As lawyers, we
obtain many of our referrals from other lawyers.
Consider placing your Web site in an online community
where other attorneys will see it.
What should I put there?
Having debunked the goal of becoming the
world’s great Web site on Copyright law, it begs
the question of what one should include on a
law firm Web site. The answer is simple, and
probably largely already done (in the form of a
brochure). A statement about your firm. Physical
location and general contact E-mail addresses. Bios
of attorneys in the firm, and their E-mail
addresses. Attached to those pages, copies of
articles that the attorney has published. Pictures
are recommended, but not required. Disclaimers that
cover issues such as admission to practice, client
confidentiality, and the attorney-client
relationship are wise.
While it might sound like it, I am not
recommending a static "brochure" site. A
site that simply copies all the information in the
firm brochure, and updates it as often (once a year
– if that), is not useless, but it doesn’t take
advantage of the technology as it might. So there
are some other things—besides including articles
that you’ve published—that can be done.
You should try to obtain contact information
from your visitors. Have an automated "guest
book" available, and encourage visitors to sign
it. Then collect those addresses (E-mail as well as
"snail mail") and expand your mailing list
for announcements and the like. If your firm
publishes a newsletter, encourage people to
subscribe to an E-mail only version (or sign up to
receive the printed version). If your firm doesn’t
publish a newsletter (because of the cost) consider
creating an occasional E-mail only newsletter.
Although many firms are rushing to their
local Web designer, many of them are doing it
for the wrong reasons. They think it’s a
"billboard" of sorts, and potential
clients will drive by and be so dazzled by their
professionalism, that they will hire that firm.
But it is well known that—by far—the most
effective method of generating new business in a
legal practice is building and enhancing
relationships with existing clients, and
providing information to potential clients.
Creating a Web site that is designed to fairly
reflect what you do, and your expertise, and
that provides the type of information potential
clients might be looking for is your goal.
"Will it get me more clients?"
The answer is maybe, and if so, not alone. The
reason to set up a Web site for your firm is to
provide additional information to people who
already know of you. It’s an opportunity to
extend your business card and provide
information that a potential client might be
looking for. Attorneys need a web site because
they need a better business card.
© 1998, David Thomson
percent of people who use the Internet start with search engines to find sites
like yours. Source: GVU Center, College of Computing - George Institute of
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