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Websites for Solos and Small Firms- An Idea Whose Time is Now Here

 
"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 the question about needing a website five years ago (yes, five years), my answer was, "probably not at this time."  A lot has changed in these five years and my answer now is "Yes and the sooner the better.
            Some statistics to reinforce my belief that the time has come for most solos and small firms to develop their own websites: * (from a presentation Websites for Lawyers by Andy Adkins, Florida Bar Association, June 2004 - statistics from Touchpoint Metrics)

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

            38% search online for legal services at least weekly

            89% use search engines to find law firm websites

            86 % go directly to a law firm's site

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

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

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

 

            The Absolute Minimum Requirement

            Even if you choose to never have a website, you should have a domain name.  The domain name is what comes after the @ in your email address.  In addition, it is usually the URL for a website.  If you want to see which domain names are available there are many sites for that information.  Two are www.networksolutions.com or www.nameboy.com.

            In addition, there are some ethics opinions related to this issue.  Ethics opinions,  97-26, 02-18, 04-15 can be read at http://www.msba.org/members/default.asp.  
          

            Tips to Get You Started

            Decide The Purpose 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 for firm sites are:

                        To get new clients

                        To market "niche" practice

                        To improve communication with current clients

                        To provide information to current clients and/or the public

                        To let clients and potential clients that they are a technology savvy firm

                        To keep up with the competition
 

            Ten Tips For a Website

 1. Take the Time to Plan             

Take the time to decide what segment of the population you want to visit your site.  You need to decide if you want to attract a new audience and/or your current client base.  Your site might be an electronic brochure or 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 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 on-going basis.  If your practice is a single niche or if it depends heavily on referrals from a particular profession, you might also want your sight be a resource for your referral sources.           

2. Content is King (or Queen)

            Your mantra should be "Content is King".  Regardless of the purpose of your site, most of the people you want to attract are looking for information.  The true value of the internet is access to information.  Even if you are using you 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.  It has to be good and provide valuable and interesting information.
            Make certain there are no grammatical or spelling errors anywhere on the site.   

3. KISS Theory

            Keep it simple, stupid should be the way for your website.  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, the 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 these older versions.  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.  One way to have people come back to your site again and again is to provide a large number of links 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 on 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. Disclaimer

            It is necessary to put some disclaimers on your site especially if you are allowing e-mail contact and are providing information. 

            Some warnings are: 

You must let everyone know that e-mail is not confidential and that e-mail can be intercepted.
            You should have a disclaimer indicating that any e-mail communication does not constitute legal representation.  You should 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 sight should be considered legal advice.  It is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal representation. 

8. Update Your Site Regularly

            If one of your goals should be to have people return to your site regularly, then 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 goal is for new clients to use the site, then this is less important but not unimportant.
           At a minimum, take down old information especially if it is time or date sensitive.  You should indicate on your site each time the site is updated.  Your site should be updated at least weekly.  It can be something as simple as "link of the week"  "news item of the week" 
            You need to determine who is going to do this from both a technical and a content point of view.  Very often the technical person is not the content person.  The most difficult aspect of maintaining the site is updating the content. 

9. Emphasize something unique or special about your practice

            Obviously if you have a niche practice this is very easy to do.  If you limit your practice to only doing 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 you provide.  You should 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 have a wild website, this is a great place to show a little creativity.  This is an opportunity to share some information on local events or some things that some staff may be doing.  If you are active in a small community you could include some information on your participation.  There are many ways that you could include some creativity into your site.   

11. Tell People About Your Site 

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

Places To Go for More Information 

            Make certain that your 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.  It is not just for law firms           

Sites from Solos and Small 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 is site is amazing to view. 

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

            www.consumerlawpage.com   A site with a lot of information

            www.consumerlaw.com   This is an example of a site that is for Hawaii citizens but a lot of the content is provided by two Hawaiian attorneys.    

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

 

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