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Tech Report

ABA TechReport 2023

2023 Websites & Marketing TechReport

Allison C Johs

Summary

  • The ABA TechReport 2023 pairs data from the 2023 Legal Technology Survey Report, which surveyed practicing attorneys, with analysis, observations, and predictions from experts in the legal technology field.
  • Opportunities remain for lawyers to improve their services and the way they communicate with both potential and existing clients by using technology more effectively.
  • The best way for law firms to know if their marketing efforts bear fruit is to track the data and review it regularly. 
2023 Websites & Marketing TechReport
iStock.com/Thanabodin Jittrong

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The results of the 2023 ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Legal Technology Survey are in. This article highlights some of the results from the survey volume covering marketing and communication technology.

The data collected from this volume of the survey was based on completed questionnaires from lawyers in private practice. Survey respondents were 22% from solo firms, 30% at firms of 2-9 attorneys, 21% at firms of 10-49 attorneys, 6% at firms of 50-99 attorneys, 11% at firms of 100-499 lawyers, and 10% at firms of 500 or more attorneys.

Thirty-three percent of respondents are partners in their firms; 14% identified as the managing partner, 7% as of counsel, and 17% as associates.

Marketing Overview

Although more firms are working with internal marketing staff or outside consultants on their marketing, lawyers are still involved in marketing activities. Overall, 58% of respondents say attorneys perform marketing activities in their firms. Internal marketing staff is involved in 32% of respondents’ firms, including over 92% of respondents from firms of 100 or more lawyers. External consultants are used by 18% of respondents’ firms, and 19% report that administrative staff handles marketing activities.

The marketing activities respondents’ firms hire an outside consultant or agency to undertake include:

  • Website design (42%)
  • SEO (28%)
  • Social media (27%)
  • Print marketing (9%)
  • Online leads (9%)
  • AdWords/PPC (8%)
  • Directory listings (6%)
  • Direct mail, tv ads, online promotions (3% each)

Law Firm Websites

According to the survey, the percentage of respondents overall who report that their law firms have a website has dropped from 94% in 2021 and 2022 to 87% in 2023 (the same number as in 2020).

The smallest firms continue to be the least likely to have a firm website; 65% of solo respondents have a website, as compared to 89% of those in firms of 2-9 lawyers, 95% of firms with 10-49 lawyers, and 97% of firms with 100 or more lawyers.

Website Management

While several years ago it was more common for one lawyer in the firm or law firm staff to manage law firm websites, the 2023 survey reveals more of a split between outside consultants or providers (24%), one lawyer in the firm (21%), and firm marketing staff (20%) taking most of the responsibility for website management.

Overall, 21% of respondents say that one lawyer manages their firm website, including 60% of solos. Another 30% of solos use outside consultants. At firms with 2-9 lawyers, the firm’s site is most likely to be managed by outside providers (40%) or one lawyer in the firm (30%). In contrast, firms with 100 or more lawyers are most likely to report that their firm employs firm marketing staff to manage their website.

Content Creation

Law firms seem to also be trending toward spreading the responsibility for website content creation, although lawyers are still involved, their involvement may be shrinking. Since the lawyers are the ones in the firm with knowledge and experience in their fields, they are the ones in the best position to create website content, even if they have help in doing so.

In 2023, fewer respondents indicated that the content for their law firm website was created by more than one lawyer in the firm (44%), as compared to 56% in 2022 and over 50% in 2020 and 2021. Fewer also reported that firm marketing staff created the content for the firm’s website – only 31%, as compared to 43% in 2022.

Outside consultants or providers created content for 24% of respondents’ firm websites, including 30% of solos, 34% of respondents’ firms with 2-9 lawyers and 25% of firms with 10-49 lawyers.

Overall, 21% of respondents said that one lawyer in their firm created the firm’s website content, up from only approximately 15% over the previous two years. Solos still rely heavily on themselves for content creation; 72% of solos with websites create their own content.

In addition to outside consultants, 38% of firms with 2-9 lawyers rely on more than one lawyer to create web content, and another 28% say one lawyer creates content for their firms.

Respondents from firms of 100 or more attorneys most often report that their firms rely on firm marketing staff for website content creation (79%), followed by more than one lawyer in the firm (63%), and firm technology staff (27%).

Types of Website Content

The types of content that can be found on law firm websites have remained reasonably consistent since 2019. Profiles of attorneys were almost universally included on all respondents’ websites. Respondents indicated that 96% of firm websites included partner profiles and 74% included profiles of associates. Fewer survey respondents indicated that their firm’s website included recent firm successes (47%, down from 57% last year), and legal articles written in-house (54%, down from 62% in 2022), but only 15% included consumer guides written in-house. Cases of interest were another popular type of law firm content; 37% of respondents said these were included on their firm’s site.

Most respondents’ law firms (64%) are still not syndicating the content from their sites. The 14% of respondents who say their firms do syndicate content do so most often on social media (63%). Another 24% syndicate on Law 360. Fewer than 10% syndicate content elsewhere. Large firms more likely to syndicate content than smaller firms; In 2023, 25% of respondents from firms with 500 or more lawyers and 21% from firms of 100-499 lawyers said their firms syndicated their website content, as compared with fewer than 7% of lawyers with fewer than 10 lawyers.

Information Collected on Law Firm Websites

Law firm websites are becoming less and less a one-way exchange of information. Often, websites are used as a way to capture information from clients and prospects. The most common information collected by law firms on their websites are names (90%), telephone numbers (73%), email addresses (42%) and mailing addresses (37%).

But when lawyers collect information through text fields on their websites, are they including disclaimers with those forms about the security of the information provided, whether privilege attaches to that information, or an attorney-client relationship is formed? Only one third of respondents said yes. Another third does not know, and 8% said that their firms did not provide any disclaimers. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said their firms do not collect information through text fields on their website.

Mobile-Friendly Sites

Overall, 74% of respondents say their firm’s website is mobile friendly, including 80% of respondents from firms of 100 or more attorneys, 75% from firms of 2-9 lawyers, 69% from firms of 10-49 attorneys, and 68% of solo attorneys. But another 20% of respondents do not know whether their firm’s site is mobile-friendly, leading one to believe that many lawyers either pay little attention to the firm’s website or have never bothered to access the site on their device.

Website Security

Only 44% of respondents said their law firm website used SSL security (or the HTTPS protocol), but another 48% did not know whether their site uses SSL or not.

Additional Services and Resources

In addition to providing and collecting information from web visitors, some law firms offer additional services, including scheduling appointments, document sharing, case status updates, and paying for services either through the firm’s website or other online methods. How widely are these services being adopted?

Communicating with Clients

Client communication is one of the most important – if not the most important – job of every lawyer. Lawyers are obligated to keep clients up to date on their matters, and to communicate with them regularly. But outside of email, the majority of rims are still not taking advantage of all of the options available to them.

Survey respondents indicated that the methods they use most often to communicate with clients include:

  • Email 92%
  • Telephone/voice mail 86%
  • Face to face 45%
  • Videoconferencing 37% (as compared to 44% in 2022)
  • Web conferencing 34% (as compared to 46% in 2022)
  • Postal mail 19%
  • Text/SMS messaging 18%

Live chat, a feature becoming increasingly common on all kinds of websites from banks to retailers, is rarely offered on law firm websites. According to this year’s survey 81% of respondents’ firms do not offer live chat, and only 12% were sure that their firm’s site did offer it.

Of those who do offer it, live chat is most commonly handled by a virtual receptionist (47%, as opposed to 63% in 2022), followed by 29% who said that one attorney was responsible. Last year’s survey indicated that an in-house receptionist handled live chat in 25% of respondents’ firms, but in 2023, only 12% said that this was the case. Paralegals handle live chat in 15% of respondents’ firms.

Only 21% of firms offer case status updates either online or through their firm website, with the lowest being respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers, at 13%. Forty percent of respondents overall said they do offer messaging with clients online or through their firm’s website.

While a secure client portal may be the best way for law firms and clients to communicate effectively, giving clients access not only to messages, but to case status updates, appointments and calendaring, and even billing status, 53% of survey respondents said their firm does not offer clients access to a secure client portal.

And while 35% of this year’s survey respondents said their firm offers clients access to a secure client portal, only 12% said that they regularly use a secure client portal to communicate with clients. Another 24% said that they use a secure client portal to communicate with clients only occasionally.

Larger firms are more likely to have a secure client portal. Sixty-six percent of respondents from firms of 500 or more lawyers offer the portal, as compared to 25% of solos, approximately 31% of respondents from firms of 2-49 lawyers, 41% from firms of 50-99 lawyers and 50% of firms with 100-499 lawyers.

Of those who offer a secure client portal, 22% use SharePoint, 21% Clio, 12% NetDocs, 11% use a custom solution and 10% use MyCase.

Regardless of how they choose to communicate with clients, lawyers may not be addressing client communication up front or in their engagement agreements; 54% of respondents’ engagement agreements do not address preferred or required communication methods.

Although email is a popular communication method, many respondents’ engagement agreements also do not address security concerns surrounding communication by email or allow clients to opt out of email communication. Only 17% reported that their representation agreement provides disclosure and allows clients to opt out, while another 18% said their agreement disclosed the issues but did not provide an opt out option. Thirty eight percent report “neither” (compared with 33% in 2022, 39% in 2021, and 47% in 2020) and 27% don’t know whether their agreement addresses this issue.

When sending confidential information via email, a majority of respondents (66%) say they rely on the confidentiality statement in the body of their email message or in the subject line (25%) for security. Forty four percent of respondents encrypt email communications, and 26% password protect documents they send by email.

Scheduling

Only 15% of respondents said that their law firm’s website offered the ability to schedule an initial consultation, including 20% of solos, 18% of lawyers from firms of 50-99 lawyers, 17% lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 10% of respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers.

Beyond the initial consultation, law firms field a lot of calls from their clients about upcoming dates and spend a lot of time trying to schedule meetings or appointments with existing clients. Allowing clients to view a calendar containing upcoming dates or to schedule their own appointments with their lawyers at a date and time convenient to both the lawyer and the client could cut down on a lot of this time. Yet only 21% of respondents said that their firms offered these services to clients online or through their websites. Surprisingly, this number hasn’t changed much since before the pandemic – in 2019, 23% of respondents said they offered this service.

Document Sharing and Fillable Forms

Document sharing and fillable forms are two ways that law firms can increase their productivity by streamlining their processes and reducing data entry while working with clients more effectively. In the 2023 survey, almost half (48%) of respondents said their firm did offer document sharing, while 45% said they did not. The largest firms are the most likely to offer this service, and solos are the least likely, at 36%.

Fillable forms are less common - only 5% of respondents said that their law firm’s website offered fillable forms for document creation, with solos being the most likely to report having them (24%).

Invoicing and Bill Payment

Online invoicing and bill payment are commonplace in many industries, but according to the survey, the majority of lawyers do not offer this service to their clients. Only 41% of respondents say that their law firms offer invoicing and bill payment online or through their website, although this number has increased since 2019, when only 34% said they did.

Other Law Firm Marketing Efforts

In addition to their websites, law firms are using other technology and digital platforms to market and enhance their practices, including blogs, social media and more.

Blogging

One third of respondents say their law firms have a blog, including 60% of lawyers in firms of between 100-499 lawyers and over 67% of respondents from firms with 500+ lawyers.

Far fewer respondents – only 12% - maintain their own legal topic blogs. Respondents who maintain their own legal topic blog do so mainly for client development (67%), because they enjoy writing and outreach (57%), to increase their site rankings (41%) or for career development and networking (39%).

Social Media

The large majority of law firms are using social media to market their law practices. Only 16% of respondents said their firms had no online presence.

LinkedIn still remains the leading network for law firms. Of those who said their firm maintained a social media presence, 83% have a presence on LinkedIn, including, 73% of solos, 75% of firms with 2-9 lawyers, 86% of firms with 10-49 lawyers, and 97% of firms with 100 or more lawyers. Facebook is the next most popular at 57%, and Twitter lags far behind at 33%. Interestingly, each of these numbers have dropped approximately 5% over the past two years.

Eighty one percent of respondents participate on social media themselves for professional purposes. Once again, LinkedIn is the most popular platform. Of those who do maintain a social media presence, 87% do so on LinkedIn, 40% on Facebook, 25% on Twitter (now X), and 18% on Instagram. 

Leading Social Networks Which Respondents Personally Use/Maintain a Presence in for Professional Purposes for Years 2020-2023

Leading Social Networks Which Respondents Personally Use/Maintain a Presence in for Professional Purposes for Years 2020-2023

Allison C. Johs

For those who participate personally on social media for professional purposes, 70% participated for career development and networking, 51% for community engagement, 48% for education/awareness, 47% for client development and 17% for case investigation.

Despite the fact that many of the respondents’ law firms have blogs and participate on social media, less than 46% of respondents report that their firms have policies regarding lawyer or staff participation in social networks and 27% have policies for blogging.

Almost half of respondents (49%) said they did not know whether their firms had policies about blogging or social media use. It is likely that at least some of these firms do have such policies, they have not been sufficiently communicated or reinforced with lawyers in the firm, rendering them of little use.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is only embraced by about a third (32%) of respondents’ firms. Of those who do market via email, 66% send client alerts via email, including 92% or more of respondents from firms with 100 or more lawyers, and 35% say they send individual, personalized email to clients. Email newsletters are used by 41% of respondents’ firms.

Video

Video is an extremely popular medium, and yet many lawyers have not yet embraced the trend. Only 30% of respondents said their firms produce video to help market the practice.  This number has not changed much in the past several years, although it has grown from 24% in 2020. Only 4% of respondents said they are producing video themselves to market their practice.

Those whose firms do produce video report that they are most often housed on the firm’s website (63%), followed by YouTube (46%).

Avvo

Thirty three percent of respondents had claimed their Avvo profiles. Most (61%) said they did so to be more discoverable by search engines. Other reasons for claiming an Avvo profile included:

  • Advertising (39%)
  • To get endorsements from other lawyers (33%)
  • To link Avvo to their website (15%)

Other Marketing Channels

Other channels are law firms using to market their practices include:

  • Sponsoring or attending events (35%)
  • Print marketing (16%)
  • Direct mail campaigns (12%)

Fewer than 10% of respondents said their firms used YouTube, pay-per-click, or radio to market their practices.

Success of Law Firm Marketing Efforts

Lawyers recognize that marketing is important to keep their firms top of mind with clients and potential clients, to educate their audience about what they do and who they do it for. Compared to last year, 49% of respondents said their firm’s emphasis on marketing will remain the same, and 28% of respondents to this year’s survey said that marketing is more important for their firm in the coming year than it was this year, while only 6% said it would be less important.

On a scale of 1-5, with one being not at all confident and 5 being very confident, respondents overall gave the effectiveness of their firm’s marketing a score of 3. Lawyers in firms with 500 or more lawyers gave their firms the highest score for marketing effectiveness – 3.5. But only 9% of respondents said they were “very confident” and 15% said they were “not at all confident” in their firm’s marketing.

The fact that the majority of lawyers are not very confident in their marketing is not particularly surprising given some of the other survey responses. For example, more than half of respondents’ firms are operating without an annual budget for marketing. Only 47% of respondents said their firm had an annual marketing budget – and that is down from 57% in 2022. Eighty percent of the solo practitioners surveyed did not have a marketing budget, and only 31% in firms of 2-9 lawyers had one. Thirty-six percent of respondents said their marketing budget had increased over the past year.

Marketing Metrics

The best way for law firms to know if their marketing efforts bear fruit is to track the data and review it regularly. The data can tell firms what is and isn’t working, what they should and shouldn’t invest in, and where they need to make changes to their marketing budget.

It is unclear from the survey whether lawyers and law firms are actively reviewing their marketing metrics. While some firms are using an external agency or have in-house marketing teams, many respondents’ firms do not; 43% of respondents’ firms do not use an external agency, and 47% do not have an internal marketing team.

Whether working with in-house or external marketers, only approximately 20% of respondents say they receive regular reports of marketing performance (19% for external and 20% for internal). Similarly, 11% use an outside agency but do not receive regular reports, and 14% have an internal marketing team but do not receive regular reports.

For online marketing efforts, web analytics are important to review regularly to see whether the firm’s online activities are helping them to reach their goals. Thirty-two percent of respondents said that one lawyer in their firm has access to the firm’s web analytics, followed by 22% firm marketing staff, 21% outside consultants, 18% the office administrator/manager, 16% more than one lawyer, 12% firm technology staff, and 7% firm webmaster. The survey did not ask how often those analytics were reviewed.

Do Marketing Efforts Lead to Clients?

The survey asks respondents whether clients have retained their firms as a result of specific marketing activities. Most survey respondents do not believe that clients have retained their law firm directly through their law firm website, although that number does seem to be climbing. Only 35% reported having a client retain them directly through the firm’s website, as compared to 25% in 2022. Another quarter does not know whether a client had retained their firm as a result of their website.

Twenty nine percent of those whose firms have blogs report that clients have retained the firm either directly or via referral from their blog, including 45% of solos. Of those respondents who reported maintaining their own legal topic blogs, they are somewhat more successful than the firms; 53% said they had a client retain them directly or via referral as a result of their blogging.

Of respondents who use social media themselves for professional purposes, 31% report having had a client retain them either directly or by referral through their use of social media.

This year’s survey reveals that there has been little change in how lawyers market their practices and communicate with clients over the past several years. Opportunities remain for lawyers to improve their services and the way they communicate with both potential and existing clients by using technology more effectively, getting lawyers more involved in the process and doing a better job of educating the lawyers in the firm about the firm’s marketing strategy and individual marketing efforts.

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