Law Office Management
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Is It Time To Have a Website? If Yes, Then Here are Tips to Get Started

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

This is a very difficult question to answer but solo and small firm practitioners will have to begin to consider whether or not they are going to have a website. As with all projects discussed in this column, the planning process is extremely critical. In this article, I am going to start with some basics of deciding 1) why your firm should consider a site and 2) how to begin the process. In coming months, there will be more information on developing and using a website.

Reasons Why the Answer Should Be Yes

I believe that it is time for solo and small firm practitioners to get a website.

On the web, firm size is not an issue. Some solo and small firm practitioners have sites far superior to many of the larger firms. Solo and small firms have the same ability to provide information to clients and potential clients.

On the web, you do not need to have the same large budget as some large firms to have a quality website. Unlike a printed brochure or a yellow page advertisement, the internet is always changing. This allows you to maximize your "marketing" budget because it can be less costly to make changes to your site than to change a brochure. You can also make changes much more quickly. Once you have an ad in the yellow pages, it remains the same until the following year when you renew your listing. With the internet you are able to make changes at any time. This allows you to react quickly to the changing marketplace.

It shows that your solo and small firm is a leader and stays ahead of other firms. Potential clients will assume that is true not just with technology but within your particular practice areas. Every client wants to believe that his/her lawyer knows what is going on in the law.

More and more solo and small firm practitioners have websites and you may need to be on the web because your competition is there. While you may not want to be the first to market in this new frontier, you absolutely do not want to be last.

Tips to Get You Started

*** Decide The Purpose of Your Site

Before deciding whether or not you want or need a site, you need to determine the goal of your site. Your site can have 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 firms get sites are:

To get new clients
To market their "niche" practice
To improve communication with current clients
To provide information to current clients and/or the public
To give the impression that they are a technology savvy firm
To keep up with the competition

*** How Will People Find You: Get a Domain Name

If you have not done this, please do it immediately. There are going to be fewer and fewer names available. (For a detailed description on how to register for a domain name visit Choosing and Registering a Domain Name

To see if the name that you want is available go to DomainIt.Com at http://www.domainit.com/domain-search-engine.htm. You can put the name you would like to use in the box and it will let you know it is available.

A few notes that were not listed in the above-referenced article. You will use the .com extension for your firm name. However, it is now possible to buy the .org and .net extensions to prevent others from using those names. This may not be of concern to you but if you are using your specific name you may want to make certain no one else will use it with the .org and .net extensions.

Also, if you are not going to use your actual firm name you may be restricted by the Rules of Professional Conduct as to what domain name you can choose. If you have specific questions, you should contact the MSBA Ethics Hotline. The names of members on the Hotline each month are listed on the MSBA website at http://www.msba.org/departments/membership/ethics_hotline.htm

*** Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: Look at Other Sites

The best way to see what you like or do not like is to see what types of sites are on the internet. Some good places to start are:

Reviews by Internet Lawyer at http://www.internetlawyer.com/til/marketing/firms.htm.

A list of firms by practice area

http://firms.findlaw.com/firms/

*** Decisions, Decisions: Who is Going to Design the Site

There is no doubt that many excellent sites have been started and maintained by the solo or small firm practitioners. This can still be done but I do not recommend it unless you or someone in your firm is very comfortable with technology and the use of the internet and you are committed to making the time to keep it up to date.

If you do wish to consider starting the website yourself two of the more popular products you can consider are Microsoft's Front Page (http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage/) or Macromedia's Dreamweaver (http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/)

You can read reviews of both of these products at Ziff Davis' site at http://www.zdnet.com. Simply type in Front Page or Dreamweaver in the search box and you will see reviews.

You may want to start the project yourself if you feel comfortable or want to see what you can do and then turn it over to someone else for maintenance. You should also consider using someone in your office who may have technical and creative skills. You could have the person do it as part of their current duties or as a "part-time" position after hours. There are many ways to use staff members depending upon your firm's talents and needs. If you have someone in your office take on this new job, it will clearly not be possible for him/her to continue to do the same amount of previous duties. Creating and maintaining the website is not an after thought. It should be a major part of some staff person's job if you choose to do this in-house.

If you decide to use a consultant, you will need to decide what type of consultant to use. There are two types - one will do just the design and the other is a more full service type of consultant that will help with the design but also with getting the domain name, deciding on web hosting and other technical issues.

*** Choosing the Right Consultant

Although it is always more comfortable to have a local firm to design your site, it is not absolutely necessary. Since so much of the work will be done electronically, you may consider using a firm that is not right in your local metropolitan area. The Internet Lawyer has a list of web developers at http://www.internetlawyer.com/til/marketing/developers/index.htm. While you may not use any of these, it is good starting point. Another way to find a web developer is to find sites you like and see who the developer is and contact the developer.

Some items to consider when making the decision:

Does the developer understand the service industry? While it may not be necessary to have a designer or consultant who has done law firm sites, the consultant must understand the difference between a mercantile and service business. The consultant should immediately ask you what your goals are for your site. If that does not happen, you might want to keep looking.

Get references not just URL's. You want to actually speak to someone who worked with the consultant and not just see the website. Ask the references it the consultant lived up to the timetable and the original proposal.

Make certain you understand what the "cost" of the design of the site includes. Many times the design of the site will be for a flat fee but changes and additions are additional. Also many "bells and whistles" such as e-mail contacts and forms are not included in the original cost.

Many web designers and developers are "techies" and are in love with what the internet can do. You may not need all of this technology. You decide what you need or do not need.

You should also ask if they will register your site with search engines such as Lycos, AltaVista and Law Crawler and indexes such as Yahoo and Findlaw.

You need to know if they will assist you with webhosting and what speed they will use?

Once you decide that you want a site and who will design it, there are important decisions on what should be on your site and how it should look. Next month we will discuss these and other topics.


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