Marketing Tips & Techniques
Marketing on the Internet
by David Bilinsky and Elizabeth Cordeau
There are several aspects to legal marketing on the Internet, including the now-common legal website. Firm websites often consist of nothing more than an on-line brochure, but these days this is only one technique used by innovative lawyers to reach out to new markets and new clients. Other, and more cutting-edge approaches, include participating in on-line discussions (listservs and live chats) or newsgroups, developing client-focused extranets and using email more effectively as a research, contact management and communications tool. Nonetheless, the Internet is changing so fast (one year on the Internet is measured in dog years, equal to seven human years) that what is effective today on the web will be passé tomorrow. It is difficult to predict what will come our way.
So in such a fast-paced world, how do you effectively establish your web presence and, more importantly, keep it current, fresh and relevant? Consider these issues:
Do you know your audience? Look at your business plan, your marketing plan and your goals and objectives for growing your practice. You have a practice that stands to benefit from the web if your clients and prospects 1) are in a different time zone, 2) are young, technically adept or both, 3) are heavy users of email or of the web, or rely on the web themselves to reach their clients or customers, 4) expect to be able to work collaboratively with their lawyers and 5) expect to be able to either send requests for work or, alternatively, receive updated reports on their files electronically. Lawyers who derive considerable success on-line include immigration lawyers in small firms (see, for example, www.visalaw.com), international lawyers, lawyers who have strong high-tech or intellectual property practices and lawyers who have high-volume caseloads that require a lot of client review.
Is your web strategy integrated into your other marketing efforts? (See Parts I and II of this marketing series in the June-July and August-September issues of the Benchers' Bulletin.) Whatever you produce in print should be transferable quickly and effectively to your website. Remember the golden rule: Never do anything on a one-off basis. Investigate widely-available software products like Adobe Acrobat Writer to post items that would have once been a brochure, a newsletter, a telephone list, a firm annual report, an invitation or an announcement. PowerPoint presentations can be put up several ways: by converting them to static HTML pages (look for the "save as HTML" command in PowerPoint and follow the wizard) or in a dynamic HTML fashion that preserves the animation features but requires your users to download the PowerPoint animation plug-in for their browsers. Either way, you will have levered your work product to continue to market your services.
Have you made your web presence a priority? Is your website current and up to date? Does it answer the question: "Why should I retain this firm ...?" In an age of instant information and on-line gratification, it is important to ensure that your website is as up-to-date and information-packed as your clients expect it to be. And if you don't know what your clients want from your website, here is a revolutionary idea: ask them. Another important issue relates to web visibility. Ensure that you register your site properly with the most popular search engines, and test your presence every so often to ensure you aren't lost in the crowd.
What value does your website bring to your audience? Do they find sources of information relative to their concern (see www.uslaw.com for a clickable menu for in-depth advice on legal questions online), or can clients reach out to you in new ways? For example, www.jacoby-meyers.com has an instant interview form online that you can complete and send in to be reviewed by a lawyer. Why, do you ask? To determine if you should get in touch with one of their attorneys about your personal injury situation — a novel client attraction tool.
Do you look at the world differently via the web? Look at www.e-incorp.ca for an example of an integrated service approach offering advice and service for companies. This website offers services ranging from incorporating a company, maintaining it and obtaining venture capital, all the way to taking it public. In other words, lawyers are seeing the world differently — they don't just do incorporations, they provide services to the business entity from its beginning and all the way through the expansion phases. What they are marketing is a client-service orientation facilitated and projected via the web.
Could you add features not found elsewhere? For example, a family law firm might build a support payment calculator into its website (www.divorce.bc.ca/calculator.html) or become a legal portal site offering information on the client's cause of action (for example, see extensive information about occupational diseases at www.kmesa.com). You can also build extranets tailored to your clients' specific file needs, or you can use extranets to elicit feedback from your visitors, allow specific people to register for firm special events or access the "not so public" firm contact list. Investigate the "Mind It" button that notifies readers automatically by email that you have updated pages on your website of interest to them. This technology keeps people coming back to your site (see www.visalaw.com).
Does your email program automatically attach contact information to your email messages? You should have an automatic contact information added to your emails stating who you are, where you practise and how to contact you by telephone, fax, mail and email. Not taking the time to create a "signature" file is equivalent to going to a Chamber of Commerce lunch and forgetting your business cards at home. Email is a powerful communications tool and should be used effectively; for example: to send encrypted documents at midnight to your clients rather than waiting for a courier the next day or to leave a quick message on your whereabouts when you and your clients are playing telephone tag. Remember the importance of internet security when exchanging documents. (For more information, see www.juricert.ca.)
Are you part of the world of wireless? This is one of the latest-breaking trends on the web. The proliferation of Palm Pilots and other wireless devices has allowed wireless users to download website content onto their trusty handhelds. If your practice is to provide legal updates every day (and some firms do), you may want to investigate AvantGo technology so your most valued clients can receive their daily legal news fix from your firm. Finally consider the following "Top 10" list from RedStreet (www.redstreet.com), a legal website review and evaluation service founded by Eric Heels and Rick Klau:
Top 10 Indications Your Website Consultant Has Committed Malpractice (and the percentage of large law firms that made this mistake in 1999)
10. Your website requires Java or plug-in software for navigation and doesn't work otherwise. (less than 1%)
9. Your 404 (file not found) page is not customized, so when users enter a bad URL, they get no meaningful assistance. The equivalent of a computer program crashing. (93%)
8. Your website lacks a mature search engine. (92%)
7. Your DNS is misconfigured so that you omit the "www" from your URL, you get a different website (or no website at all). (58%)
6. Your website lacks consistent navigation. (45%)
5. Your website's home page looks the same as it did last year. (42%)
4. Your domain name is not guessable or memorable. (32%)
3. Your URL is not listed in Martindale-Hubbell. (14%)
2. Your website lacks professional graphics. (5%)
1. Your website lacks "killer content." (92%)
These days, hanging a lawyer's shingle out in cyberspace is a sign of the times. Treat your website as if it was one of the most important communications and marketing tools. Because, frankly, it is — and gaining in importance daily.