General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology & Practice Guide

Should You Market Your Law Practice on the Internet?

While the authors of The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet feel that most law firms should seriously consider establishing at least some type of presence on the Internet, they also caution that there are good reasons for many to consider waiting before spending considerable time and money on such an effort. Some may want to take a cautious approach, starting out by establishing e-mail accounts for the firm’s lawyers, and making other Internet marketing decisions later.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to marketing on the Internet. Advantages include:

Reaching an untapped client base. Studies are beginning to answer questions of just who is using the Internet. Recent surveys have found:

• 37 million people in North America have Internet access.

• 72 percent of Internet users access the World Wide Web and 65 percent use e-mail.

• The average Internet user spends between five and six hours online per week.

• 55 percent of users have searched for information on products and services; 60 percent have searched for information on companies or organizations.

• The number of Internet users is rapidly growing and will continue to grow.

More cost-effective marketing. Compared to the costs of marketing in the yellow pages, television, and radio, advertising expenses associated with the Internet are quite reasonable, especially for marketing via e-mail and on newsgroups. Even developing a Website—server space and Web design—can cost as little as a few hundred dollars a year. Also, a newsletter or brochure can be distributed by e-mail without incurring the traditional costs of typesetting, printing, and postage, and can be updated regularly without major new expenses.

More effective delivery of information. News on developments can be delivered in a manner of hours instead of the days or weeks it would take using traditional marketing.

Excellent marketing complement. Even if the Internet isn’t a primary marketing mechanism, it can provide more in-depth information to someone already considering using the firm, and demonstrate your expertise in a way that no other media can approach.

Enhancement of firm image. Even if a firm doesn’t expect to increase its client base by establishing an Internet presence, such a presence sends positive messages to existing and potential clients. First, it tells clients that their lawyers have the best tools available to help get the best results. Second, a younger or smaller firm can convey a sophisticated image as larger, more established firms without expending the same financial and personnel resources.

Reduction of geographic barriers. For many people in small towns or rural areas, or for people who live a distance from where they need a lawyer, the Internet can make finding a qualified lawyer considerably easier.

What are the disadvantages?

Significant investment of resources. Unless a firm has a lawyer or consultant who really understands the Internet culture, the firm risks sinking a potentially large amount of resources into an ineffective marketing tool that may actually present a negative image to the public. Once a Website is established, it must still be updated regularly.

Little marketing assistance. There are few well-established consulting firms with measurable track records of success in promoting law firms on the Internet.

Rapidly changing medium. Technological changes for the Internet are measured in months, not years. Planning for the future is difficult.

High cost. While there has been an increase nationally in Internet Service Providers, Web server space and Web development services, many communities are still inadequately served, resulting in higher prices and a lack of competent direction. This problem is likely to decline as the industry matures.

Ethical issues. Unfortunately, there are few rules to guide firms at this time regarding unlawful practice of law, confidentiality, and other ethical issues.

Nonuser markets. Lawyers should examine their targeted client base to see if there is a realistic chance that a significant number of potential clients would use the Internet to seek legal services. If your practice is oriented toward indigent people or people who are less educated, you may not see the same return on your Internet marketing investment as another lawyer. But remember, sales of personal computers are booming, and the Internet accounts are slowly working their way into all segments of the population.

Lack of personal contact. While the Internet is praised for reducing barriers between people, many people still feel uncomfortable about not meeting face-to-face with a lawyer before establishing a client relationship.

Source: Adapted from "Deciding to Market Your Law Practice on the Internet," Chapter 1 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.

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