“It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us.” Arthur Schopenhauer
Not long ago just having a website was enough for a lawyer to demonstrate being current with the times. At least it seems not long ago to me. Then again, nearly half of my career was before there was wide spread Internet use. Exactly when the “Internet” was created depends on how you define it. Some historians trace it back to the Soviet Union and the United States military in the 1950’s. But the Internet as we know it today was not a common household term until the mid-to-late 1990’s. Remember the “information highway” commercials? I remember watching them and wondering what the heck they were talking about. How things change.
Today most lawyers have some web presence. But is “presence” enough? Expectations have changed in the past ten years. Unless you are representing clients that are not Internet users (a group that is shrinking dramatically by the day), you need to take a serious look at what your website (or lack thereof) says about you. Like it or not, your website is an extension of your firm and sets the tone for your “brand” of service. If it looks like you created it ten years ago and is little more than a firm resume, you may need to consider a facelift, or more likely an overhaul.
For many clients, the Internet is the ultimate reference tool. Whether they find you on the Internet, or check out your website after meeting you or receiving a referral, by and large prospective clients will look at your site for decision making information. What do they want to see? To some degree it is a matter of taste, but for the most part, people want to see a site that demonstrates whether a lawyer is current with the times, expert in their area of practice and successful in achieving good results in cases and conditions similar to theirs. Does your website do that? If not, your website could be doing more harm than good.
Does your site depict you as current with the times?
- Is it visually appealing by creating a mood that is consistent with your message? There is a big move away from the very traditional heavy tone and style of legal marketing materials in years past. Websites are like housing developments. Many times you can tell when they were created just by observing the style and colors. Top sites today have a more upbeat, uplifting feel to them. If you’re unsure what to do, take a look at the sites of your most successful competitors. You may not be able to afford the kind of money the top competitors spent, but it will give you an idea of what their likely high priced marketing experts recommended for the markets they are targeting.
- Does it include interactive tools or references? Options to schedule appointments directly through the site, emailing directly from the site, subscriptions to the site and more are becoming the standard. Most of these tools are included in many free website templates offered on the Internet and are becoming a minimum standard.
- Does it include news and articles of interest? Posting references on current issues through relevant articles not only provides your clients with valuable information, it is necessary to make you appear relevant. Articles of interest are also becoming so common that if you don’t have them, you appear out of touch.
- Does it include regular updates? It’s difficult to appear cutting edge when your site is no more active than the glossy brochure printed for your firm three or four years ago. Make sure all the information is current and that you are adding new content regularly. As with the articles of interest, frequently updated and interactive sites are becoming so common, not having one can make you appear very outdated. The more new content on the site, the more you demonstrate active participation in your field. Besides, updates help with search engine optimization (another very important subject, but too extensive to address in this posting).
- Does your site demonstrate your expertise?
- Most sites will include a resume or summary bio of each lawyer to demonstrate expertise, but is it enough to help you stand out? Consider writing your bio in a more results oriented fashion. Areas of practice, awards and associations are great, but how does that translate to the services you will be providing for your clients? Certainly those things should be advertised, but the compelling bio is one that answers the question most important to the prospect, i.e. “What will you do for me?”
- Nothing demonstrates expertise on a website better than thought provoking, leading edge articles written by you. Consider including a formal articles section, a blog or both on your site to provide your prospective customers with valuable information they can use to solve their problems and simultaneously to confirm your expertise. As discussed above, an article section is almost a minimum standard. Including a blog that is updated regularly may be the added edge needed to set you apart.
- Does your site demonstrate your ability to achieve desirable results?
- What prospective clients really want to know is whether you can deliver the results they want, at a price they want and with the service they want. In addition to a results oriented bio, consider including a news section that includes descriptions of your recent successes. The success stories don’t have to be earth shattering. They simply need to demonstrate that you can deliver the results the prospective client wants for the type of case or legal work they are seeking.
- Most firms focus their attention on selling expertise and experience in their marketing materials, but there is usually much less attention paid to customer service. In reality most legal work does not require an exceptionally high level of skill beyond that of the average competent lawyer. Clients expect lawyers to have the expertise and experience, but what usually ends up turning them off is poor customer service. Consider including references from former clients focusing on your excellent service (which naturally requires you to actually provide it – not a bad marketing idea as well) and to include a section on your website describing your philosophy of customer service.
In this day and age, not only is a website imperative for a successful law practice, if it doesn’t meet the minimum expectations of its prospective clients, like an old shabby suit that doesn’t fit properly, it could do more harm than good. Take a minute to give yours a fresh look. It may take some time but the good news is it may cost you less than your original site. There are so many free tools out there, the cost of a much more impressive website may be almost nothing but the time you put into it. It may take learning a little technology, but the payoff can be a very competitive site that creates a brand and reputation that closes deals and keeps your clients coming back for more. Put it off for another day and you could be leaving business at the door.