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Common Mistakes to Avoid when Starting, Maintaining or Improving Your Website

It has been almost two years since I wrote my first article on whether or not solo and small firm practitioners would benefit from having a website. It is time to revisit this topic. Two years is a long time in web-years. A lot has changed and I believe that not only is it more important than before to have a site, it is also easier.

If you do not have a website and are not yet convinced that you should have one, please read the article "Is It Time to Have a Website? Tips to Get Started" and "What to Have on Your Website" at http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.

This article will discuss some mistakes that many law firms make when creating and maintaining their websites.

A Lawyer Who Represents Himself Has a Fool For a Client

For the same reason that most people should not represent themselves in court, you should not create and technically maintain your own website. Your time is much better spent practicing law, keeping current clients happy and getting new clients.

If You Do Not Know Where You Are Going, It Does Not Matter What Road You Take.

Too often firms fail to take planning first seriously. Get ideas from others in the firm and perhaps in your family. Even before looking for a web developer, you need to determine:

  • the image you want to convey
  • the type of client you want to attract
  • the type of information you want current clients to find on the site
  • the type of information you want prospective clients to find
  • how people will find your site.

We Don't Sell Widgets

Use a company that has worked with professional service firms. There is a world of difference from selling services to selling widgets. The Internet Lawyer has a list of legal website developers at http://www.internetlawyer.com/til/marketing/developers/index.htm

The Never-Ending Project.

Budget money and time for maintaining the site. Putting up a website is just the beginning of the project and not the end. You MUST budget time and money for the site's upkeep.

If there is someone in your office that is technically proficient and shows an interest, he/she may be given the responsibility for maintaining the site but only if he/she is relieved of other responsibilities. Maintaining the site should not be a task that is done only when there is time from other legal related tasks. You may have to hire a part-time person to do the updates.

Nobody Likes Stale Bread

The same is true of websites. It is CRITICAL to keep the information on the website up to date and to change the content regularly. This is really the difficult and time-consuming part and where your time should be spent. You do not need to write all the content. The content can consist of links to information from other sites (not other law firms) that your clients and prospective clients would find useful.

This is the most difficult and most important aspect of your website. You have to give people information. It is the reason people use the internet.

Make your URL easy

Your URL is your domain name. It is everything that comes after the @. The best name is the actual name of your law firm. www.yevicslawfirm.com . (For details on finding and registering a domain name, read the articles listed above.)

You Can't be Too Rich or Too Fast

Time is money for both you and your clients and potential clients. Make your site easy and fast to load. Unless you are in the technology field and your clients are high-tech companies, most clients and potential clients are not that interested in graphics. They are looking for information so do not make them sit and wait for graphics to load. This goes back to determining what type of client you want to attract. To make certain that it does not take too long to load, try loading the site on a computer with a dial up 56K modem. According to Deborah McMurray in the December, 2001 issue of Law Practice Management, it should not take longer than 8 seconds to load. She also recommends running the same timing test for all the pages on your site.

Don't Hide Your Light Under a Basket

It is useless to create a site and then not promote it. The company/person who designs your site should have created the site in such a way to make certain that search engines find it when potential clients use specific keywords.

However, it is important to forward your site's URL to many of the search directories. You can spend the time to do it yourself or you can use software such at www.sitepromoter.com and www.submit-it.com. These sites will assist you in sending sites information about your URL.

Don't Ignore Low-Tech Promotion

Put your URL on all your stationary, business cards, fax coversheets, newsletters and any other announcements or mailings that are sent to clients and prospects. Make sure everyone in your office and your friends and family knows the URL.

Some Rules Can't Be Broken

A website is advertising and all rules regarding advertising apply to your website. Make sure you know the Maryland Rules regarding advertising. In addition there two opinions from the Ethics Committee on use of the internet. They are 97-26, Propriety of Use of Internet to Promote Law Firm and 2001-3, Internet to bring lawyers and potential clients together. Both of these opinions can be found on-line at http://www.msba.org/members/default.asp. Another site that may prove helpful is http://www.computerbar.org/netethic/abawill.htm. This is an article from the Georgia State Bar Association but it discusses ethics of the internet and has links to all states and other information.

And Some Can.

There are some very interesting law firm sites on the Internet and it would be helpful to spend some time looking at the good and the bad. The best place to start would be at http://directory.findlaw.com/. This lists many lawyers and links to any law firms with websites. It is time consuming but it could be time well spent.

Some creative site worth looking at are:

www.buglaw.com, www.taxprophet.com, www.aviationlawcorp.com. These are just three sites that use the internet to market a niche practice. There are many other examples. You can be creative and professional.

Your Location Out of Cyberspace.

Make it easy for people to contact you either by phone or e-mail. Give your address and directions to your office. Make it easy to find this information. If many people in the firm have e-mail addresses, provide that information.

Some Legal Stuff Necessary

Some disclaimers are necessary although you should keep legalese out of the text of the site. You will need disclaimers informing visitors that you are not giving legal advice and that you have not created a client/attorney relationship.

The best place to find disclaimers is on other law firm websites. In addition, there are some sample disclaimers listed at http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm. These are just samples and should be reviewed by an attorney to make certain they are appropriate for your site and situation.

For a more detailed packet of information from a variety of sources on developing law firm websites, please send an e-mail with your mailing address to pyevics@msba.org or call Pat Yevics at 410-685-7878 or 800-492-1964, ext 3039. Please leave your name and address if you get the voice mail.


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