Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2005

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER:

BY PAT YEVICS  

"Websites for Solos and Small Firms"
By Pat Yevics

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.”

- Thomas H. Huxley

When I first asked myself the question about needing a website five years ago (yes, five years), my answer was “Probably not at this time”. But a lot has changed in those five years, and my answer now is “Yes, and the sooner the better”.

To reinforce the belief that the time has come for most solos and small firms to develop their own websites, consider the following (from a presentation Websites for Lawyers by Andy Adkins, Florida Bar Association, June 2004 - statistics from Touchpoint Metrics):

65 percent of buyers of legal services have gone online to locate a law firm

38 percent search online for legal services at least weekly

89 percent use search engines to find law firm websites

86 percent go directly to a law firm’s site

71 percent enter law firm websites through portals such as Findlaw, Martindale Hubble

When using search engines, 84 percent search by practice area and 69 percent by industry experience

When not looking for a new law firm, 32 percent visit sites for content.

The Absolute Minimum Requirement
Even if you choose to never have a website, you should have a domain name (what follows the “@” in your e-mail address – it is also usually the URL for a website). There are many sites that can tell you what domain names are available, including www.networksolutions.com and www.nameboy.com. (For more details on choosing a domain name, go to http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/techtalk/2001/1201.htm. In addition, there are some ethics opinions (97-26, 02-18, 04-15) related to this issue which can be found at www.msba.org/members/default.asp.)

Decide the Purpose of Your Site
Your site can serve a variety of purposes, but you need to know what they are before you can decide what information will go on the site and what you expect to gain from having a site.

Some of the reasons for firm sites are:

To gain new clients

To market a “niche” practice

To improve communication with current clients

To provide information to current clients and/or the public

To let clients and potential clients know that they are a tech-savvy firm

To keep up with the competition.

Eleven Tips for a Website
1. Take the time to plan. Take the time to decide what segment of the population you want visiting your site. Do you want to attract a new audience and/or your current client base? Your site might be an electronic brochure, an electronic client newsletter, or a combination of both.

Once you have an idea of your ideal audience or market, decide what look or “theme” will cause this market to stay to look for information. You will also need to determine what information this market will need in order to contact you for further information or come back for additional information.

If you determine that your audience is your current client base, you need to know what information your clients want to obtain on an ongoing basis. If your practice focuses on a single niche or if it depends heavily on referrals from a particular profession, you might also want your site to be a resource for your referral sources.

2. Content is king (or queen). This should be your mantra. Regardless of your site’s purpose, most of the people you want to attract are looking for information. The true value of the Internet is the access to information that it provides. Even if you are using your site as an electronic brochure, you should include some useful information to the reader.

Your site does not have to be huge or include a lot of information. But it must be good, providing information that is both valuable and interesting.

Also, make certain that there are no grammatical or spelling errors anywhere on the site.

3. The KISS theory. “K(eep) I(t) S(imple), S(tupid)” should be the ethos behind your site’s design. The site should be easy to navigate and it should be easy to find information. Before you put the site up live, have some others use it and see if they can find information that your audience wants.

4. Keep graphics to a minimum. While many sites are very exciting and colorful, large graphics take too long to load (especially on older home computers). It is possible to have an attractive, even bold site without huge graphics.

Make sure that you use a variety of computers when testing your site to see how long it takes to load. You should also test older versions of browsers to see how it looks with those older versions, as most people do not always have the latest version.

5. Provide links – lots of links. One of the main reasons people will “bookmark” a site is because the sites provides a large number of valuable links; hence, one way to have people return to your site again and again is to provide a large number of links that your audience will find useful. I have many law firm sites bookmarked because they provide wonderful links to helpful sites.

One of the biggest maintenance headaches for links is making sure that they continue to work. You should have someone regularly check your hypertext links to make certain they are still working.

6. Include a “Contact Us” link. This is a link that will allow someone to send an e-mail to a specific address. If you do not want it to be a specific person, you can create an alias, such as info@sololawfirm.com. Many people who use the Internet are comfortable submitting a request via e-mail. Also, many people may be visiting your site when there is no one in the office to answer the phone.

You should also provide the firm’s phone number and address as well as e-mail contact and e-mail addresses.

7. Include a disclaimer. It is necessary to put some disclaimers on your site, especially if you are providing information and allowing e-mail contact. Here are some warnings that should be included:

Let everyone know that e-mail is not confidential and that it can be intercepted.

Include a disclaimer indicating that any e-mail communication does not constitute legal representation. You should clearly indicate that simply because they request information you are not their lawyer and they are not your client. That would only happen if a fee or representation letter is signed.

No information on the site should be considered legal advice; rather, it is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal representation.

8. Update your site regularly. Should you want people to return to your site regularly it is critical that the information be updated regularly. If you want clients or referral sources to use your site, then updating is very important. If your primary goal is for new clients to use the site, keeping information up to date is less critical, though not entirely unimportant.

At a minimum, remove old information from the site, especially if it is time-sensitive. You should indicate on your site each time the site is updated (ideally no less than weekly). The update can be something as simple as the “link of the week” or “news item of the week”.

Determine who is going to do this, from both a technical and a content point of view (the technical person is seldom the content person). The most difficult aspect of maintaining the site is updating the content.

9. Emphasize something unique or special about your practice. If you have a niche practice, this is obviously very easy to do. If you limit your practice to, say, adoptions from foreign countries, the Internet is a great place for you. If you are a general practitioner or you practice in a number of areas, you should still find something unique about the types of services that you provide. Be more specific when describing your areas.

10. Yes, you can (and should) be a little creative. While it is not necessary to use large graphics or all the bells and whistles, your website is a great place to show a little creativity. It is a fine opportunity to share information on local events or some activities or accomplishments of your staff. If you are active in a small community, consider including some information on your participation in local activities.

11. Tell people about your site. Now that your site is up, let people know about it! Send announcements to all of your clients and referral sources. Send a notice or press release to smaller local newspapers. Put the information on your business card. Give out the URL, and make certain that your staff, friends and family know about the site.

Places to Go for More Information
Be sure to look at other sites before deciding on how you want yours to look. Some (of the many) sites to view are:

www.redstreet.com – This has a review of the National Law Journal’s top 250. While these are large firms, there is a lot of valuable information.

www.webpagesthatsuck.com – This is a wonderful site that is just what it sounds like. It discusses what to do and not do with websites, and it is not just for law firms.

www.taxprophet.com – This is the site of a solo practitioner.

www.visalaw.com – This is the site of Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer from Tennessee. He wrote the book on using the Internet to increase your practice. While immigration law is more suited to the Internet than most areas, this site is nonetheless amazing to view.

www.aviationlawcorp.com – This is a great example of a site for a solo with a niche practice.

www.consumerlawpage.com – This site features a lot of information.

www.consumerlaw.com – Compiled by a pair of Hawaiian attorneys, this site provides a lot of information for citizens of the Aloha State.

In addition, I have a large packet of additional material available on creating a law firm website; contact me at pyevics@msba.org and indicate that you want the material, and it will be sent to you. You may also contact me by phone at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3039. If leaving a voice mail, please leave your name (spell it slowly) and your mailing address.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2005

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