What the Web Can Do For You
Net Clients With the Right Site Stuff.
By Larry Bodine
Web sites do bring in business. Clients do check out lawyers online. And the Web is the most efficient way to market your practice—if your site has the right stuff. According to an estimate from this year’s ABA TECHSHOW®, 95 percent of all law firms now have Web sites. And research shows that buyers of legal services indeed visit those sites. ● Smart law firms realize that general counsel, business executives and other prospective clients will study a firm’s site before they will consider retaining the firm. So smart firms put up sites with information that will attract new business in their target markets. ● Some law firm Web sites are, in fact, perfectly executed marketing tools. The firms know the keys:
• The three things clients look for on law firm Web Sites
• How to describe their industry experience
• The deadly Web site mistakes to avoid
• The hot spots that online visitors go to
• How to tune lawyer bios to attract clients
But many law firms have done just the opposite. They’ve put up Web sites that spool out yards of text that obscures what the firm does. They’ve incorporated distracting graphics that slow down and frustrate visitors. They’ve developed sites that get in the way of the firm’s marketing mission. You’d think that lawyers would know better.
Here’s what you should know about what really goes on a law firm Web site.
What Clients Look For: It’s about Them
It seems amazing, but, based on reports from User Interface Engineering, Inc., visitors cannot find the information they seek on Web sites approximately 60 percent of the time. And sadly, the same group reports, sites lose repeat visits from 40 percent of their users because the first visit was a negative experience.
Visitors who leave dissatisfied and won’t return. Now that’s a shame—and a waste of a firm’s marketing money—because Web sites are so inherently efficient as marketing devices. They don’t involve printing or postage costs, unlike printed newsletters. They incorporate tools that measure how many people actually look at your site, unlike regular advertising. Perhaps best of all, they’re available and working for you around the clock, unlike the rest of your marketing materials. A good Web site is the best marketing investment your law firm can make. And a good Web site gives visitors what they seek, providing relevant up-to-date information that draws in the best clients.
The best clients are repeat clients, which primarily means businesses, because they have regular and ongoing legal matters to address. So, what do business executives and in-house counsel look for when they visit a law firm site? There are three key things:
• Whether the firm is familiar with their industry
• Whether the firm has represented similar businesses
• What results the firm has achieved for clients
Are You Experienced? Be Specific
The problem is that most law firm Web sites are firm-centric. The typical one consists of the law firm talking about itself—listing its practice descriptions, reciting its history and spinning a glowing self-description. This is not what your visitors want. They can presume that you know about your firm and your industry. But what do you know about theirs?
Put it right up there, on the Web for all to see. Break out exactly what and who you represent. Here are examples of firms with sites that describe their industry experience effectively:
• Reed Smith, www.reedsmith.com/in dustry/focus.asp, which emphasizes the financial services, health care and technology industries. Each industry focus page lists statistics, clients, publicity and case examples.
• Winston & Strawn, www.winston.com /wshome.nsf/pframeieexp?openpage, which has industry-specific practice groups in the fields of energy, information technology, construction, real estate, financial services, health care, transportation, pharmaceutical, mari- time and admiralty.
• Foley & Lardner, www.foleylardner .com/industries/industries.asp, which concentrates on automotive, energy, health care, life sciences and technology.
• Jenkens & Gilchrist, www.jenkens.com/jenkens/industries.asp, which covers the fields of banking, biotechnology, construction, franchising, health, sports and entertainment, white-collar and technology.
• Holland and Hart, www.hollandhart .com/practice.cfm, which emphasizes the broadband communications, construction and design, energy and electricity, health care, mining, oil and gas, skiing and telecommunications industries.
Prove It: Show Your Client List
Another thing missing from the typical law firm site is the good old-fashioned client list. In bygone days, before law firms had marketing directors, it was commonplace for firms to provide names of representative clients in their directory listings. Somehow, this idea never transferred to the Web. Perhaps it was because law firms feared that the competition would poach their client lists or, possibly, that their clients would object. Whatever the reason, it is a marketing mistake to omit a list of representative clients from your site. Smart prospects will always want to know whose matters you handle.
The Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll has the idea right. On its Web site, at www.bipc.com/resources/index .html, it lists 150 clients sorted into 17 industries. Equaling this is the site of the Denver firm Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons, which lists more than 100 clients online, at www.rothgerber.com, and sorts them according to areas of its practice.
A sampling of other law firms that list clients on their sites includes:
• Arnall, Golden, Gregory, www.agg.com/Practice/ClientsRepresented.html
• Ballard Spahr, www.ballardspahr.com/client_successes/case_studies.asp
• Drinker, Biddle & Reath, www.dbr.com/firmr.htm
• Moore & VanAllen, www.mvalaw.com/profile/clients.htm
• Proskauer Rose, www.proskauer.com/about_the_firm/clients
Be Ready for Your Visitors: Hot Spots
While you’re in there pumping up your site with industry and client lists, what else, you wonder, should you change? Well, just as you don’t need to clean the garage whenever company comes over, you don’t need to rewrite every page of your site each month. But, at the very least, you should focus on the quality and currency of the most-visited pages. Your firm can determine the identity of those pages from its monthly Web site traffic reports.
In my consulting practice, I’ve reviewed dozens of law firm Web sites and traffic reports. While no two sites are the same, there are discernible patterns in where the visitors go. In terms of marketing impact, the top spots are:
• The home page
• The lawyers’ bios
All other parts of the site—newsletters, events, press releases, articles, practice descriptions—fall farther down the list.
The Home Page: It Could Be Your Only Chance
You want to put your best foot forward on the home page. It’s the firm’s big chance to make a good first impression, to interest visitors in staying on the site and to entice them to return.
The home page needs to look professionally designed, not homemade. (After all, we are professionals, right?) It should have fewer than 10 well-chosen links. Most law firms make the mistake of setting out too many options, which just confuses or vexes visitors. And the entire home page should fit on one screen, with the resolution set at 800 x 600 pixels. The reason: Visitors are unlikely to scroll down a home page to find more information.
If you have an old-style page that uses frames, this is the time to change it. Two years ago, framesets were widely adopted by law firms, but they created three significant problems. First, they confuse search engines and prevent the engines from indexing your site. Second, they make it difficult to bookmark or send a page link to a colleague, because the link will be to the frame—not the particular page you were viewing. Finally, sites in frames don’t print out properly. You’ll get the displayed content broken apart on separate pages—and some pages won’t print at all.
Lawyer Biographies: We’re Only Human
The human face of the law firm makes a difference in attracting new business. And it makes a difference how you present yourself—in person and online. Lawyers make sure their personal appearance is businesslike, their stationery reflects their firm and their business cards have all their key contact information. They should devote the same attention to their Web site bios.
Your Web bio is your initial introduction to site visitors and, unlike in random social contacts, you have total control over what you present in your online bio. Exercise this control so that your bio contains the following:
The essentials: Include a recent color photo, a list of the industries you represent and a list of your representative clients. You can skip the "law school attended" text. This is interesting to opposing lawyers who are profiling you, but it is not especially interesting to clients. They’re not familiar with the comparative reputations of law schools and consider a lawyer’s school record to be ancient history.
Business memberships. It is important to list your board memberships and trade association memberships. But your bar association memberships are another matter. That information is too "inside law" for clients to care about. They can’t distinguish between a mandatory and a voluntary bar, and it doesn’t matter to them anyway. Most clients view bar memberships as "lawyers talking among themselves."
Articles you’ve written. If you list an article you wrote, be sure there’s a link to it on the firm Web site. Visitors expect your site to be interactive, and if the article isn’t available on the site, it’s much less impressive. Don’t, however, clog up your online bio with a collection of articles and speeches you wrote or presented more than two years ago. A Web site is supposed to inform visitors about what you’re doing now, not be an archive of the past.
Pursue a Fresh Emphasis
The point to remember is that a law firm Web site should emphasize the areas that visitors seek most. When it comes to marketing, what visitors seek is information on your industry knowledge, representative clients and successes and, of course, background on the lawyers who will, in fact, work with them. Take a new look at your site with fresh eyes. Ask not what your law firm wants to say about itself; ask what your visitors want to find.
Larry Bodine (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a marketing and Web site consultant who has conducted Web site audits for law firms throughout North America. He can be reached at (630) 942-0977.
SIDEBAR, page 27
10 Deadly Web Site Mistakes
Just as there are many ways to poke yourself in the eye, there are many ways to mess up a law firm Web site. But at the very least, you can try to avoid the 10 most deadly mistakes. Hold your nose—here’s a list of the top offenders.
1. The endless list of practice descriptions. Too many sites string out the firm’s list of 25, 50 or even 100 practice descriptions, all listed alphabetically. The result? There are so many choices that a visitor has no logical way to choose among them. Stick with this important rule of site usability: Do not overwhelm the visitor with choices. You have an obligation to anticipate what your visitors will be looking for, and to organize information logically for them.
2. The managing partner’s "Welcome." I’ve yet to see a welcome message that tells a visitor anything important. Usually these messages are exercises in ego, like having a picture of yourself on your office wall. Certainly no visitor to a law firm site seeks out a message like this. Typical welcome messages state how proud the firm is of itself, and how the firm is "large" or "old" or "prominent." (It occurs to me that if I were something large and old, I would not want those features to be prominent.) Welcome messages describe what the visitor could find on the site, if only the visitor hadn’t stopped to read the welcome message.
3. The mission statement. The typical mission statement lustily tells visitors how the firm is growing and plans to grow still more. It describes how high the firm scored in the rankings of profits-per-partner. Like Genghis Khan describing his conquests, the statement might even list all the firms that have been acquired and how more mergers are on the way. Visitors aren’t interested in that. They’re interested in learning if your firm can solve their problems.
4. The firm history. Firm histories all begin at some point in time before the memory of the living. And they’re illustrated with oil paintings of people. The stories start with the lawyer who became the first name of the firm. He—it’s invariably a man—was at one point a judge or perhaps the commander of a fort. The first guy met the second guy (who became the second name in the firm) and they decided to practice law together. They represented the miller, the buggy company and … lo! The firm is still here today. End of story. These histories are aimed at an internal audience. That’s why they should be on the firm’s intranet—and not its public Web site.
5. Those helpful research links. These are relics from the Web’s early days, when the excitement of just having a Web page energized firms to list places that other newbies could visit. Nowadays, no one conducts legal research on a law firm Web site—we have Lexis, Westlaw and plenty of other resources for that. And nobody goes to a law firm site to find the weather forecast, local attractions and entertainment options. So why do firms still feel compelled to offer these choices?
6. Newsletters from four years ago. Wine gets better with age, and so does cheese. But most things just get stale—which is the case with firm announcements and newsletters. Keeping old material online does not impress visitors. It just conveys that you do not update your site frequently. A Web site shouldn’t be a dumping ground or archive for the firm’s past thoughts. It should be a display of what’s new and makes a difference today.
7. The introductory movie. It’s surprising that law firm sites still have splash screens or flash intros that get in the way of viewing the site contents. In general, these intros don’t provide any information, or anything else that’s memorable to visitors. They’re just technical flourishes, similar to children saying, "Look what I can do!" You can get away with "Coming Attractions" at a movie theater, but the same is not true on Web sites. Online visitors want to get to the point immediately, without being subjected to digital distractions that only hold them up.
8. The hip recruiting page. This oh-so-cool section is jazzily designed for law students, to convey that while firm lawyers all wear ties and shiny shoes, they can still relate to the kids. These pages feature quotes from happy associates, color photos of summer associates throwing Frisbees and maybe a video message from the managing partner. However, the recruiting section is still connected, like a boat to an anchor, to the rest of the site, with its mission statement, firm history and endless list of practice descriptions. The main site will look staid and old-fashioned in comparison and betray the flashy look of the recruiting section. Law students will see the difference and immediately know which is reality, and which is not. Firms that get it just right discuss what it’s like to work at the firm, describe their summer programs and provide the firm’s recruiting schedule and NALP form.
9. Viewable only on a T-1 line. Some sites are designed around lots of graphics, including background watermarks and animated pictures. Or they require visitors to download the latest version of Macromedia Flash before entering the site. These sites are difficult, if not impossible, to view on a 56K dial-up connection—which many on-the-road lawyers and businesspeople have to use to dial in to the Internet. In fact, a great many visitors still access the Web via dial-up connections. They won’t be able to view sites designed for a T-1 line.
10. Pages that don’t print out. Sure, a Web site is an online medium meant to be viewed on a computer screen. But firms that design their sites only to be viewed online may not get their message out to numerous visitors. It’s well-known practice for Web users to "harvest" pages and print them out for later reading. Unfortunately, many firm sites are designed wider than 600 pixels, so the right edge of the page is cut off when it is printed. This is annoying to visitors and demonstrates that the firm didn’t really think through its site design.
SIDEBAR, page 32
Fresh Content and Where to buy It
For many law firms, it is a challenge to maintain fresh content for a Web site. The lawyers are busy practicing law, and the marketing staff might not have ready sources of material. A viable option is to buy news feeds, articles and other up-to-date information from a content aggregation company. The following companies collect information from thousands of sources and sell it to law firms to publish on their Web sites. The information here has been extracted from the vendors’ sites.
Through FindLaw News, a news section on your Web site will display links to stories that are refreshed several times daily. You can choose news stories from different topics, such as Top Headlines, Civil Rights, Labor and Intellectual Property. And you can select case summaries that relate to your practice areas, like Bankruptcy Law, Contracts and Family Law.
In addition, lawyer-writers will develop custom content for West FirmSite users. After an in-depth interview to help identify your goals, FindLaw will compose compelling content that tells the unique story of your firm. Content can be written for your welcome page, firm overview, practice area descriptions, list of lawyers, online forms and more. You can also provide your clients with engaging topical content, updated monthly, through an E-Newsletter section.
LexisNexis Web Publisher
LexisNexis Web Publisher offers you a wide range of information from which to choose. General Topics provide access to news of universal interest, while Enhanced Topics provide access to more targeted industry and market-specific news and information. With Custom Topics, LexisNexis can help you narrow the focus even further by creating custom search filters tailored to your specialized needs, as well as those of your clients.
LexisNexis Web Publisher offers access to content from more than 4,000 news and business sources, sorted into more than 2,000 unique topic areas. One filter displays both premium news and important company announcements. A demonstration is available on the Web site.
ScreamingMedia’s news products offer different degrees of customization and editorial control, depending on your needs. All products deliver content directly to your network or, alternatively, they can be fully hosted. ScreamingMedia’s most robust content product, Custom!Edition, gives you access to more than 3,000 top international content providers. Filters sift through millions of news articles and features to find the ones right for your profile.
Law firms can also choose from news from specific providers—including the Associated Press, Red Herring, ABCNews.com, Business Week and Thomson Financial—and maintenance-free categorized news packages. Simple to set up and requiring little or no maintenance, ScreamingMedia’s News!Stand delivers news, complete with summaries and photos, to your Web site.
The Moreover CI-Watch delivers single-point access to any online information that you decide is essential to your business. It continually tracks any topic on thousands of critical online sources—delivering updates as often as every 15 minutes directly to your intranet, portal or Web site. The service monitors thousands of major news, industry, regional, international, research, government and institutional sources. It also tracks the latest commentary, rumors and leaks on analyst sites and discussion boards.
Moreover CI-Watch indexes more than 1,000 new articles per hour. It scales to include any new online or internal source; filters information by any topic using simple or complex rules; and combines live editors with intelligent technology to continually filter for new, relevant information.
Using YellowBrix’s proprietary classification engine, iSyndicate offers more than 1,000 categorized news products. These categorized feeds pull from up to 60,000 stories per day to find the articles that are most relevant to each category. Categories are updated automatically and in real-time as news is delivered from each source. Plus, custom categories can easily be created to meet your unique needs. For example, the Industrial Chemicals category feed pulls from top trade publications, newspapers and wires to find the articles on industrial chemicals.
NetContent delivers electronic business news content from more than 2,000 publications (newspapers, trade and business journals, magazines and newswires) to individuals and corporations. NetContent’s article publishing technology enables law firms to publish on their Web sites content that is most relevant to client needs—and to update it whenever the firm wants. As a result, you can deliver branded, targeted messages to your audience and supply the fresh content that draws repeat visitors.
A powerful electronic newsletter feature allows you to e-mail that same content to your customers, members or prospects—whenever you want. You capture and manage your distribution list; integrate with your brand identity; and easily, thoroughly administer it all.
Factiva (Dow Jones/Reuters)
Found on 1.5 million employee desktops, Factiva keeps employees informed at Fortune 500 companies like Ford Motor Company and Ernst & Young.
What distinguishes NewsEdge content solu-tions is the company’s proprietary NewsEdge Refinery technology, its experienced editorial staff and a library of more than 2,000 respected media sources. NewsEdge reviews and feeds hundreds of sources and thousands of topic categories—edited from the finest sources in the world—to intranets, extranets and Web sites. Content is edited by experts in their fields, so NewsEdge delivers only news worth reading—relevant news and information—read by real human beings with topical expertise. NewsEdge has the experience of knowing what industry topics businesspeople need to compete in today’s marketplace.
+44 117 915 9600
LawZone offers top U.K. legal news (free of charge), which you get by cutting and pasting a tiny bit of code into your Web site. Used by more than 60 U.K. legal sites, it is specific U.K. legal news, not mixed up with non-legal material. News is posted daily.
Comtex News Network
Comtex CustomWires are real-time, subject-specific newswires compiled from more than 10,000 national and international news bureaus, agencies and publications. This diverse blend of contributors lends both a local and global perspective to worldwide news and events, ensuring comprehensive, balanced reporting. Content includes business, community, finance, high-tech and international.
Reuters Online Reports
More than 1,200 Web sites and portals get news from Reuters’ online service, which provides the top 10 breaking news stories at any given time, with photos, video and graphics. Content is automatically posted to your site.
Words 4 Business
+44 (0) 1392 423607
Words 4 Business supplies business-to-business content to law firms in the U.K. The material is written specifically for the client and has a marketing edge. The source material is created by professionally qualified writers and edited into everyday English. The service offers private client, employment law and general commercial content.
W4B provides content for the U.K.’s biggest suppliers of client newsletters in both the legal and accounting professions. It also offers a service to U.S. and U.K. firms in ghostwriting articles for publication, and a service to translate idiomatic U.S. into U.K. English and vice versa.
The Associated Press Digital
The world’s oldest and largest news organization provides print stories as well as photos, graphics, audio and video. The cost is based on amount of content, number of subscribers and royalties.