General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine
I don’t know about you, but I’m spending more and more time on the Internet. Not just surfing around looking for knickknacks to buy (although I have picked up some pretty good bargains!), but getting or sending out real information and engaging in communication that helps me in my business every day. And I know I’m not alone.
The Internet—and when I say that, I’m primarily talking about the web—just keeps growing and expanding. And lawyers are trying as hard as everyone else to keep up. Research aid, information source, marketing tool—the Internet is something different for everyone, and it’s a valuable resource that we’re all going to rely on more and more in the future.
Consider one of its original uses for lawyers: the firm website. What started out as a simple electronic version of a brochure has evolved into a completely different animal.
I took a look at several dozen small-firm sites recently, and one in particular www.barnesrichardson.com impressed me, going far beyond the standard firm history/lawyer profiles/practice areas. A Daily Report page summarizes government activity affecting international trade, the firm’s specialty—and it is prepared daily. Recent Cases provides summaries of case decisions from various federal courts. International Trade Update, the firm’s quarterly newsletter, features developments in customs and international trade law. Articles and Programs includes articles by firm lawyers and a schedule of upcoming events in which they’ll be participating. Web Links connects to Internet resources relating to the firm’s major practice areas. All of this from a small firm!
Websites are now an important element in many law firms’ marketing efforts. Company sites provide valuable information to current and prospective clients. Especially important for small firms is that they can more easily compete with larger ones if they have an attractive, well-organized, and informative presence on the Internet. In fact, my overall impression is that the smaller firms seem to have the advantage when it comes to active sites that are creative and innovative.
Take a look at what Amazon www.amazon.com is doing. In addition to all of the books, music, videos, toys and games, electronics, and e-cards that move through its enormously popular site, they’ve just started an electronic mall called "zShops" www.zshops.com. The plan is to let space for thousands of merchants to hang their electronic shingles on the site and sell their products. Transactions take place between buyers and merchants who range from specialty retailers and small businesses to individuals—you name it. Everyone is welcome at zShops. Amazon provides only the venue ("mall") for this new form of e-commerce.
Lawyers Weekly USA
Another important benefit of the Internet is the ease of doing research. The amount of information now available to lawyers, with only a few mouse clicks, is staggering.
For example, www.lawyersweekly. com is so much more than an electronic version of the popular biweekly newspaper. If you’re a subscriber, click on USA Archives and voilà—you can search through back issues for either section A legal highlights, cases, and news, or section B management topics. It’s all right there, ready to read or print out.
Even nonsubscribers can access a wealth of information from the site’s Resources pages: The Law Library contains searchable opinions of the Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, and other federal courts; new laws, bills, and contact information for Congress; links to every federal agency; a searchable database of law reviews; state case law, codes, and regulations; U.S. Code in searchable text; Code of Federal Regulations in searchable text; rules of evidence and procedure; and searchable Uniform Laws. General Reference has links to dozens of notable legal organizations, a lawyer referral directory, legal job listings, and a complete list of CLE programs—by state.
One of my favorites on this site is Top Ten Web Picks, a regularly updated, eclectic mix of interesting links. For example, you can link to www.legal ethics.com, which offers sample disclaimer language for lawyer websites and e-mail to help you avoid liability. Or to an ABA site that describes every malpractice carrier that writes policies in your state and offers point-by-point comparison of what they offer www.abanet.org/legalservices/lpl.html). Or, for a little fun, how about the site that lets you determine the sales prices of homes near a given address so you can find out what your neighbors paid rhs.iown.com/buy/rh_buy_index.html.
And all this from just ONE website!
A Host of Others
If you don’t feel like doing the search work on the Internet yourself, there are plenty of companies and services ready to help you. Oliver’s Cases www.olivers cases.com uses the new "push" technology to automatically deliver the latest federal and state appellate court opinions in any practice area to your desktop every day. Forget slogging through piles of advance sheets. You get the opinions that are relevant to your practice within one or two hours of their being published! (See article, page 42.) Could it be any easier?
There’s also no end to the information you can find that’s not strictly related to the practice of law. Want to invest? Check out www.offroadcapital.com. It’s the first private capital marketplace where investors can find opportunities in small, rapidly growing companies. You have access to deals, information, and a community of like-minded investors. OffRoad Capital provides investment opportunities previously unavailable to most individuals.
As you can see, when talk turns to the Internet, there’s never a moment of silence. This digital domain is exploding all around us, and it will only get better and more useful with time. n
Edward Poll is a certified management consultant in Los Angeles who advises lawyers and law firms on how to deliver their services more effectively while increasing their profits at the same time. He is the author of The Profitable Law Office Handbook: Attorney’s Guide to Successful Business Planning. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.