General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology & Practice Guide

Developing a Website for Your Law Firm

BY GREGORY H. SISKIND AND TIMOTHY J. MOSES

This article is excerpted from "The World Wide Web—Developing Content for a Web Site," Chapter 10 in The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet by Gregory H. Siskind and Timothy J. Moses, ABA Section of Law Practice Management, 1996. © 1996 American Bar Association. Reprinted by permission.

While a Web site’s classy, attractive appearance is important, the ultimate success of the home page will be tied to the quality of a site’s content. A great site will look sharp, be well organized, blend useful legal information with lots of information on the firm, be well publicized both on and off the Internet, and make it easy for an existing or potential client to contact the firm effortlessly. A law firm Web site might include:

• A firm mission/philosophy statement;

• A resume of the firm or resumes of the lawyers;

• Newsletters and articles written by the firm’s lawyers;

• A list of representative clients and links to the Web site;

• The text of key government documents such as proposed bills and regulations;

• A description of the firm’s practice areas;

• Biographical information on each lawyer;

• A description of the firm’s pro bono and community service activities;

• A section including articles and reports about the law firm or the firm’s lawyers;

• A "What’s New" section of announcements by the firm;

• Consultation and Intake Forms;

• Links to related information on the Internet;

• Information on contacting the firm;

• Marketing surveys and guest books; and

• Offbeat offerings such as personal home pages for each of the lawyers or a legal humor section.

While effectively publicizing an attractive, well-organized site with lots of promotional information may get someone to initially visit your home page, you are unlikely to get repeat visitors unless you provide the visitor with useful information that also demonstrates a firm’s expertise. Repeat visits build name recognition and loyalty. Name recognition and loyalty translate into business. This is a fact of the Internet culture that is not unique to the legal profession. One should not be surprised, therefore, that the most successful sites on the Internet are free and content-rich. With traditional marketing, you can get your message to people over and over again even when they are not looking for it. Online marketing does not afford you the same luxury—people must want to see your site.

Also remember to change your site’s content frequently. Internet views are information-driven and they are not likely to regularly return to a stagnant site. Be sure to note on or near the top of the main page of a site the last time it was changed.

And, even if your site has excellent, frequently changing content, do not bury it deep in your page where no one will see it. Be sure to prominently headline your content features on your main page.

The information available at your site can be delivered in a variety of formats. The most common are newsletters, Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) documents, articles on specific subjects written by the firm’s lawyers, as well as briefs and memoranda written by the firm’s lawyers on important issues. When developing an information product for your Web site, consider several points:

• What written information does your firm currently produce? Do you already produce client newsletters? Do you regularly send out memoranda to clients updating them on important changes in the law? Have you recently prepared written material for a seminar at which you spoke?

• Do you have access to information that potential clients would have difficulty getting? Because you monitor developments in your field and may receive information quickly from a variety of sources regarding important changes in the law, you may be in a position to become a news source for visitors to your Web site. Of course, be sure to pay attention to copyright laws when you post this kind of information.

• Focus on the types of questions people most frequently request when they contact you. What kinds of questions should they be asking? Use those questions to develop a FAQ document.

• Have you recently researched an interesting question of law for a client? Consider turning that research into an article to post on your site.

• Do you moderate a mailing list? Include recent message strings on your Web site.

• Have you developed a useful collection of links to resources on the Internet? A good links page can help your Web site become a regular jumping-off point for people browsing the Web. Some of the items that you might consider including in your page of links are as follows:

• Links to related professionals in your field (If you are a real estate lawyer, for example, consider adding links to real estate agents.);

• Links to government agencies regulating clients in your field;

• Newsgroups, mailing lists, and Web sites with information related to your practice area; and

• Links to organizations and firms that might be useful contacts for visitors of your site.

• Be sure to regularly publish your newsletter or update your articles. You will receive more hits if visitors can reliably predict that they will find new information at your site. Be sure to let visitors know when they can expect a new posting.

• Consider archiving your previous newsletters and include an articles index so that visitors can find useful articles from past issues.

• Consider including a search engine (a handy tool that lets the visitor type in search terms and the search engine locates matches) that will list for the visitor all of the links on a site related to the requested item.

Description of the Firm’s Background

While providing useful legal information gives Internet users a reason to return to a site over and over again, a firm still needs to provide the visitor with the type of background information on the firm that will impress a client. To achieve this, a Web site should contain the type of information typically included in a firm brochure. It should also complement the firm’s printed brochure and other printed promotional materials. For example, you might use the same logo and color scheme on all your online and offline documents. This section of the Web site could include the following types of information:

• The firm’s history.

• The firm’s areas of expertise.

• Geographic market served—let the visitor know if you primarily serve a local, national, or international client base.

• Important awards, success stories, and case victories. You might want to provide a link here to the URL for any decisions or related news stories available on the Internet involving your firm’s lawyers.

• The firm’s pro bono, civic, and community activities. Consider adding links to the organizations that have e-mail addresses and Web links. As a matter of courtesy, you should contact the organization to request its permission to list the link.

• Key clients and URL links to those with an Internet presence. Again, seek the client’s permission to be mentioned and linked at your site.

• Information on the firm’s fees (hourly rates, flat fee options, etc.), flexible billing options, whether the firm accepts credit cards, etc.

• Photographs of the firm’s exteriors and interiors.

Interacting with Your Audience

One of the most revolutionary aspects of marketing of the World Wide Web is the ability to interact with the people viewing your site. Some of the more innovative law firm Web sites are using forms of all types to improve the quality of the home page. A visitor types in information on an online form and the information comes back to the firm in the form of an e-mail message. Consider the following uses for forms at your site:

• Welcome your visitors with a guestbook.

• Invite clients to request a consultation with a questionnaire or intake form.

• Use marketing information forms.

• Provide newsletter and mailing-list subscription forms.

• Employ a search engine to find information on your site.

The "What’s New" Section

The front page of your Web site should always include a section that lets visitors know what types of changes or additions have been made on your Web site. You should also include a brief statement at the very top of your page that notes when the most recent changes to the page were made. The What’s New section can be used to announce items such as:

• New articles, newsletters, or links available at the site;

• Achievements of members of the firm;

• The addition of new lawyers;

• The availability of new Internet communications tools such as voice and video conferencing. n

Gregory H. Siskind is a partner at the Nashville office of Siskind, Susser, Haas & Chang, an immigration law firm. His firm’s immigration law newsletter, distributed via e-mail and at his firm’s homepage, is read by more than 20,000 people every month. He is a member of the ABA Section of Law Practice Management. Timothy J. Moses is a partner at Telalink, a firm that concentrates on assisting businesses that want to be visible on the Internet by providing a secure and reliable location for their online information. He is a member of the ABA Section of Law Practice Management.

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