No Lawyer Left Behind: Getting on the Web
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
Not long ago, I received a request for a lawyer referral. Three lawyers came to mind, so I prepared to pass on their contact information, including website addresses. To my surprise, one of the lawyers did not have a website. Without a website, I feared the lawyer would appear unsophisticated to the client. I calculated the extra effort necessary to describe his qualifications. In the end, I chose to save myself some time and avoid the risk of appearing to give low quality referrals. I passed on contact info for only two lawyers.
Originally published in the March 2007 issue of the Texas Bar Journal.
Referrals Check You Out on the Web
Some lawyers say they don’t need a website because most of their business comes from referrals. According to Margot W. Teleki in the July 17, 2006 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal, “the first thing your referral will do is check out your firm’s web site before giving you a call to see who and what you are and how well you’re suited to meet his needs.” Gerry Morris, a white collar criminal lawyer in Austin, Texas, says “Sometimes clients referred to me by other lawyers come into my office with a printout from my website in hand.”
If your firm doesn’t have a website, could you be losing referral business without knowing it? When your prospective client can’t find you on the web, could that send the message that your firm is too small, too new, too unsophisticated, too unsuccessful, or too behind the times to handle the good quality work you desire to attract?
Small Firms Lag Behind
Legal marketing consultants Alyn-Weiss concluded that “Law firm web sites are the single most effective marketing tool employed by corporate, transactional and defense firms.” In their 2008 national survey of 81 firms, 69% had “received work directly or by referral during the past 24 months” from their website. The average size of the firms responding was 46. Yet the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Survey for 2008 reported that only 51% of solo practitioners in the U.S. and 77% of small firms (2 to 9 attorneys) have a website. They lag behind bigger firms. One hundred per cent of U.S. firms larger than 50 attorneys report having a website, and 97% of those with between 10 to 50 lawyers have one. Although we don’t have the correlating statistics on Canadian firms, we would expect to find significant differences between large and small firms in Canada as well.
Why don’t the remaining solo and small firms have websites? Some small firms with stretched resources believe a website is beyond their financial means because they don’t have the budget to hire an IT consultant. Others struggle just to keep up with their clients’ legal needs and still have some semblance of a personal life. They believe they just don’t have the necessary time to invest in creating a firm website. Some worry they won’t get the content right, but content can be modified and updated frequently. A few techno-phobes think they can outrun the tsunami and retire from practice before websites become de rigueur. (They are the same ones who thought they could avoid a desktop computer and email.)
Benefits of Websites
Besides avoiding looking inadequate or behind the times, why would lawyers want websites? Websites give clients a chance to get to know you and your qualifications at their convenience and before they are ready to make the commitment of a phone call. Websites can brag on your achievements and demonstrate your expertise, which decorum would prohibit in person. Informative articles and other valuable content pertinent to clients’ needs build trust because you provide service before ever meeting with the client. Websites save time and improve staff productivity by answering those recurring client questions about office hours, location, and how the legal process typically works. They can include intake forms for clients to complete before their first appointment or lists of essential documentation to bring to the appointment.
Most importantly, a website with useful content containing the words clients search on reaches clients when they are interested, 24/7. Morris says his website (www.egmlaw.com) brought in enough business in the first year to more than pay for itself. Soon it so out-performed his old tried and true Yellow Pages ad that he canceled the ad.
If you are now squirming in your seat with awareness that your firm just has to get a website up, how do you go about it? Begin by shopping the competition. Many websites have the name and web link of the designer in small print at the bottom of the page. Contact designers whose work you like for an estimate. Ask your friends and colleagues whether they would recommend their web designer, and what costs to expect. You can also find plenty of designers by entering terms like “websites for lawyers” or “law firm web designers” into a search engine. Websites like www.elance.com and www.guru.com provide a forum for freelance web designers to bid on your project and provide links to portfolios of their previous work. Those sites also post satisfaction ratings and comments by previous customers.
What kind of expense should you expect? That depends on the number of pages and complexity of your site. A firm of 5 to 10 lawyers might expect to pay $2,000 to $8,000 for a custom site. However, according to Luke Gilman (www.GilmanCreative.com), a web designer turned law student, a firm on a tight budget could still get a custom web design up for under $1,000.
Websites on a Tight Budget
For even greater cost savings, check out the many template websites that are available. Sure, some other firms may have a website that looks similar to yours, but that’s better than being invisible! They usually have many templates to choose from and are so user-friendly that “even a lawyer” can create his or her own website in a day. I created one for a non-profit I was involved with in about 8 hours of work using www.SpinSite.com for $12 per month. One of my clients has gotten great results using www.SquareSpace.com for $14 per month.
For templates specially designed for law firms, take a look at sites like www.lawsitesdev.com, www.legalwebdesigner.com and www.easylawsite.com. Their five or six page law firm websites cost from $400 to $1,000, plus a monthly fee of $25 to $40. That usually includes domain name registration, hosting fees, and a limited number of email accounts. Sometimes web traffic statistics are even included in the package. Sometimes web traffic statistics are even included in the package. For a real bargain, however, check out the create-a-website packages at www.easylawweb.com, where you can get a five-page site for only about $6 per month, or www.citymax.com for $20 per month, including the hosting fee and an email account. Finally, for the ultimate bargain, get a minimal site free at www.justia.com.
Legal Directory Websites
Attorneys can also get template websites created for them at online legal directories such as www.lawyers.com and www.findlaw.com. A search for a lawyer usually brings up listings in those two directories on the first page of any search engine. Due to the directory listing cost, even the simplest template site runs about $2,000 per year, and more targeted premium listings can cost much more. Many lawyers have found directory listings worth the price, although results may vary depending on the region and practice specialty. Even some firms that already have custom websites pay the fee to have their site linked to a directory listing.
With all these options, the only excuse for not having a website today is that you already have more business than you want!
This article has been adapted from articles by the author published in the Texas Bar Journal in March 2007 and in Addendum, the online magazine of the Canadian Bar Association, in August 2008.
Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach (www.lawyer-coach.com), a law practice management coaching and training firm. She practiced law for 18 years before becoming the first Texas lawyer credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is the former Vice-Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and a past leader of the Houston chapter of ICF.em>