September 2009 Archives

September 29, 2009

Give Yourself and Your Clients the Present of Web Presence

It's hard to believe that nearly a decade into the 21st century, 52 percent of solo lawyers still don't have a website, according to the ABA's 2008 Tech Survey.  If you fall into this category, perhaps you figure that a web presence isn't relevant since most of your clients come by way of mouth or referral.   Even so, consider the message that lacking a website (or an alternative web presence like a blog conveys.  For starters, many prospective clients and referrers may conclude that if you haven't bothered to stay current on technology, then perhaps you've let your substantive legal knowledge slide as well.  Moreover, many clients regard a website as a basic convenience; a place where at a minimum, they can find contact information, an address and a photo.  By failing to provide this information online, you give the impression that you're insensitive to clients' needs.

Alternatively, the thought of getting a website up and running may intimidate you.  You've heard quotes from colleagues about $10,000 or even $20,000 sites and that's simply not in the budget.  As I'll discuss below, you certainly don't have to put up that kind of money for a basic site.

At the same time, if you're one of those lawyers who has had a website since the mid-1990s, don't pat yourself on the back just yet.   Though a website loaded with Flash, high graphic images and a couple of static pages may have been cutting edge a decade ago, in a more dynamic Web 2.0 age, it is likely showing signs of age.

So, if you don't have a website at all, or you're considering a face lift, consider these tips below to get you started.

1.  Take a trip around the Internet:  Why not start down the path to building a website with a trip of your own -- around the Internet -- and visit other websites for inspiration.  If you're on a listserv, now's the time to click on the URL in participants' signatures and take a look at what their sites look like, and whether it's something you'd want to replicate.  You can also find collections of lawyer websites online -- there's a terrific bunch here at LexCSS as a start.

Don't limit yourself to lawyer websites, though.  If you practice in a specific industry, like high tech or real estate or health care, you may find common conventions amongst those sites that would make sense to incorporate in yours.   Likewise, consultants and other professionals may include certain features that could benefit your practice as well.

2.  Develop a strategy  This article from Small Biz Trends emphasizes the importance of having a strategy -- a method to the madness, so to speak -- behind a website:

Your first step in creating your Web site is to outline the goals for that online presence. From there you'll be able to identify your calls to action and key content themes so that you can build around them. You want to know how the site will be used so that you can incorporate your navigation in a way that will be intuitive for users. You want to create content that will reinforce what you're trying to accomplish, it should be informative, and it should put people on a path to do whatever it is you want them to do. If you don't create a Web strategy before building the site, you're going to lose your focus and value for users.

How do you see potential visitors using your site?  Will it simply serve as a source of basic information?  What kind of contact will be useful to users?  Potential clients may be interested in educational materials or tip lists, whereas potential referral sources will want to information about your credentials and past accomplishments to determine whether to send you cases.

Also, consider your audience.  A corporate crowd likely won't be amused by a whimsical website while consumers won't feel welcome at a highly formal site.  Design your site with the audience in mind. 
 
3.  Website Features  Once you've looked at some of the other sites, and come up with a strategy put together a list of the features that you'd like to include in yours.   For example, an "About Us" page that describes your firm is fairly de rigeur.  But what about an "About You" page, which is a more effective way to make clients understand how you can help them.

Compare the following two descriptions: 

About Us:  I am a highly qualified business lawyer with 12 years of experience drafting leases, shareholder agreements and other business documents.

About You:  You are a small, mom and pop owned business with a need for cost-effective assistance in preparation of basic agreements to protect your rights.

From a client's perspective, which is more effective?

Other effective features include testimonials (though check bar rules to determine whether you can ethically include them), video, which adds a personal touch, an educational e-book, for download or a newsletter.  These features infuse your site with personality and also give clients a reason to contact you, even if only to get a free e-book or newsletter.

4.  Interaction In the 21st century, a website should be interactive.  You need a way for clients to contact you, whether it's through a contact sheet or through tools like Google Voice.

5.  Educate Yourself:  Once you've decided what kinds of features you'd like to include in yourself, educate yourself about the feasibility.  Many features that seem high-end are surprisingly easy to include, yet often site designers will charge an arm and a leg for them.  For example, you can install auto-responder services like Aweber to capture client contact information and enable them to sign up for a newsletter.  Many site designers will tell you that this kind of feature is costly when in reality, you could set it up yourself.  Likewise, companies will often charge several hundreds of dollars for "site maintenance" or updating pages when there are many tools that allow you to do this yourself.

Realize too, that at the end of the day, as a lawyer, you are responsible for your developer's work.  The Ninth Circuit just held that a small law firm, whose web designer lifted the content from a competitor's site and used it for the small firm's new website could be liable for copyright violations.  So if a developer charges a price that's too good to be true (because maybe he's done the same site before!) or provides professional sounding material that seems vaguely familiar, you may want to check around the web to make sure that the site that your designer presented  isn't already online under someone else's name.

6. Design Yourself or DIY  This piece by Deborah Bruce contains some good information on the range of costs of websites, from the low end do it yourself to retaining a designer.  Bruce suggests two easy and inexpensive do it yourself options, www.SpinSite.com for $12 per month and www.SquareSpace.com for $14 per month.  In addition to do it yourself and high end designers, consider a middle of the road solution, such as contracting a designer through Craigslist or Odesk, where you can generally find a developer in the $300-$700 price range. If you do hire a designer, be sure that you register your domain names yourself.  You don't want to find yourself in a conflict with a developer down the line and lose access to the domain name.

7.  The legal stuff:  No law firm website would be complete without the requisite legal disclaimers about how your site doesn't offer advice, how contacting a lawyer through the site doesn't give rise to attorney client privilege and that the site may be a form of advertising.  Check your bar rules to determine what kind of disclaimer is required.   Copyright notices are important as well to put potential infringers on notice.

There's no need to run a monster disclaimer right on the front page; you can simply link to it on a sub-page.  And you might even consider a somewhat humorous disclaimer like this one to satisfy your lawyerly duties but at the same time, show signs of a real personality.

8.  More Reading:  For more ideas on setting up a website, consider this extra reading:

This article from CNN Money offers a great, play-by-play makeover of a highly ineffective website belonging to a small firm in a small community.  Just because you practice in a small town doesn't mean that your website needs to be bumpkin-like, and the article offers great advice on how the lawyers could redesign the site to make it more user friendly and SEO-efficient. 

Solo and small firm lawyers are small businesses, and so they stand to learn a great deal from this piece on common mistakes of small business websites.  These include poor design, lack of interactivity and failing to give any reason for visitors to return.

Personality will help set a website apart, and Entrepreneur.com gives some quick tips on how to let your unique character shine through.

Jay Fleischman at Legal PracticePro provides seven quick fixes for improving an already existing website.

Designing a website correctly can take time, so why not start now?  A website presence is a great present, both for yourself and for your clients. 
September 14, 2009

Legal Marketing: Social Media Trends

So, how many lawyers use online professional networking and social media tools and which ones do they favor?  Interesting questions to be sure, but you're probably wondering why you should care.  After all, as a lawyer you're probably more interested in where and how potential clients are using social media rather than what your colleagues are doing with it. 

However, turning a blind eye to how your colleagues are using social media is a mistake.  Because social media isn't just a static tool -- like a newspaper ad or a website -- for direct generation of clients.  Engaging social media is also a process that enables lawyers to build meaningful relationships with colleagues, which in turn will produce referrals.

A just released study by Leader Networks shows why social media is critical to generating business in the legal profession.  Of the 1474 lawyers surveyed as part of the study (764 private practice lawyers and 710 corporate counsel), 56 percent identified peer referrals or recommendations as the most effective method for finding business, followed by in person networking events (33 percent) and conferences and seminars (15 percent).  Only three percent believed that blogging, listservs or other social media tools helped to generate business.

But here's the rub.  Despite recognizing the importance of networking with peers to generate referrals, most lawyers said that they simply don't have the time to leverage opportunities to network with peers.  And that's where social media can fill the gap.  Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, the ABA's Legally Minded, Martindale Connected or Legal OnRamp, serve as a virtual water cooler, giving lawyers opportunities to exchange quick pleasantries, update colleagues on recent accomplishments ("speaking at national conference" or "just won SJ hearing") and share news of current events or developments in their respective practice areas.   As relationships evolve, you might find yourself consulting with a colleague on another matter or eventually passing on a case -- and vice versa. 

So not surprisingly, more lawyers are joining social networking sites.  According to the Leader Networks Study, 78 percent of lawyers polled reported membership in an online social network, up substantially from 59 percent in 2008.  And participation runs across all age groups, with 86 percent of lawyers aged 25-35 belonging to social networks, followed by 76 percent of those 36-45 and 66 percent of those in the 46-55+ category. 

Still, even though social networking can be less time consuming than traveling to a conference four hours away, it can easily become a time-sink unless lawyers are disciplined about participation.  So here are a few tips to engage social media tools efficiently so that you won't begrudge your participation if referrals don't come as quickly as you'd like.

1.  Choose your weapons

If this is your first foray into social media, you may want to proceed with some caution.  You are better off signing up for two sites and creating a robust presence rather than spreading yourself thin on eight or ten sites. 

However, with so many social media tools available, how can you pick the one that's right for you?  The decision depends largely on your intended targets.  If you're looking to build relationships with other lawyers, here's how various social media sites stack up according to the Leader Network report:

Linked-In - (used by 58% private counsel, 52% corporate counsel);

Martindale-Hubbell Connected, reading and commenting on blogs (42 % private counsel,
35 % corporate counsel);

Public social networks (Facebook, MySpace)  (37% private counsel, 25% corporate counsel);

Online Q&A and expert search services (e.g., WikiHow or Yahoo Answers) (13% private counsel, 19% corporate counsel);

Twitter (6% private counsel, 4% corporate counsel)

Other considerations in choosing a site include:

--Your personality.  If you tend to be shy or reserved, a site like Facebook, which is most interesting when colored by photos or light banter, may not be appropriate.  Instead, you may feel more comfortable at a more sites like Linked-In or Martindale Hubbell Connect, where the interactions are more focused on professional matters.

--Your schedule.  Some types of social media - such as blogging or regularly responding to online questions and answers may be too time consuming to fit into your schedule or to justify based on the resulting returns.  If you're busy, choose social media sites that don't require a large time investment.

--Your markets.  Are your competitors engaged in, or gaining stature at certain social media sites?  If so, you may want to dive in if only to keep an eye on them.  At the same time, don't avoid a social media site just because it's not populated with other lawyers from your practice area.  There's something to be said for gaining a first mover advantage.

2.  Recognize the process for building relationships

Because this post is focused primarily on use of social media as a way to build connections and generate referrals and business from other lawyers (as opposed to directly from clients), I'm going to assume that as your goal.  So how do you reach the point where you establish a relationship that encourages referrals?

In many ways, the stages of relationship building on social media parallel those in a traditional office environment.  For example, if you ever worked in an office, recall how you went about establishing relationships with colleagues.  During the first few weeks, you likely exchanged greetings and perhaps emailed each other about work related projects.  As you grew more comfortable, perhaps you went to lunch together or out for a cup of coffee and chatted about personal matters like your vacation plans or girlfriend or kids.  Finally, after more time, you may have gotten together outside of the office for a ball game or a tennis match.  Having established this level of camaraderie, you most likely tried to help your colleague professionally by referring him clients or making sure to sing his praises to management.

The same process takes place in the online world as well.  Initially, you may exchange greetings with a colleague whom you've "friended" on Facebook.  After a few weeks, you may comment on photos she's posted of family or offer some sympathy after she's posted about a bad day.  Finally, if you learn that your Facebook colleague will be visiting your city or speaking at a conference that you plan to attend, you might try to schedule an offline, in person meeting which will solidify the relationship.  Once you've grown comfortable with each other, your colleague will trust you enough to send contacts.  Plus, because you have a personal friendship, your colleague will make an effort to help you out, and vice versa.

3.  Don't dive in too quickly

You want social media relationships to evolve offline, but at the same time, you don't want to jump in too quickly.  Avoid friending 400 people whom you barely know all at once and then sharing 40 items with them daily.  Likewise, don't bombard Twitter with self-promotional posts or you'll just turn off followers.  You wouldn't like it if an office mate barged in to your conversation with a co-worker and began gabbing away, would you?  Turns out, social etiquette in social media isn't all that different.

4.  Set up a social media schedule

Some social media tools, particularly Facebook and Twitter can quickly become addictive.  If you spend too much time online, you won't get any work done - and worse, you'll create the impression that you're not very busy.  A realistic schedule might include (1) blocking off thirty minutes early  in the morning to log on to your social media accounts and return messages, send messages and tend to any updates and then (2) repeating the process sometime during the late afternoon or evening.   Or you might block out three to four 15 minute segments throughout the day to come online.  Of course, during really busy periods, you may not have any time for social media - so try to stick to the schedule when you can to establish a reasonably consistent presence.

5.  Do not outsource your social media! 

You don't need to read any further than my last post here to understand the dangers of outsourcing social media campaigns.

Conclusion:  Increasingly, lawyers are joining social media - but there's still time to get on board.   You just need to keep an open mind about the possibilities that social media holds to  build meaningful and lasting connections with colleagues that will provide both financial and personal rewards.

For more detailed information on how lawyers can use social media, take a look at my ebook on Social Media for Lawyers.  

September 11, 2009

Legal Marketing Round Up

It's time for another round up of updates on previous posts.  Without further ado, here's a bunch of quick follow up tips from around the blogosphere:

1. Be Careful Whom You Hire As  a Marketer  A few months ago, I asked whether you should hire a legal marketer and warned about some of the potential red flags to avoid in choosing a marketing consultant.  At least one unfortunate attorney failed to read my advice, and now, she's found herself the brunt of serious criticism around the blogosphere. 

Colin Samuels' Infamy and Praise Round Tuit 2 provides the best summary of the sordid affair.  Apparently, a California attorney retained a marketing consultant (well, actually, she bartered for his services) who chose to build her online presence by scraping content from other blogs, including Houston criminal defense lawyer's Mark Bennett's Defending People.  The consultant also set up a number of alias Twitter accounts under the California attorney's name in a lame effort to boost her SEO.  Mark Bennett took the consultant to task  here and here, with the end result of spreading the story around the blogosphere, damaging the attorney's representation in the process.  Two lessons here:  (1) bad publicity isn't necessarily better than good publicity and (2) DON'T outsource your marketing efforts.  Hopefully, this attorney will read my earlier post on guarding your reputation online so that she can minimize the negative commentary.

2.  Recyle and Re-purpose for a Successful Blog In my post on ebooks, I described how you can recycle or re-purpose content you've created for blogs or other publications to include in the ebook. However, the concept of re-purposing or multi-purposing is also useful to understand if you're trying to build a successful blog, a topic I've covered here. Over at Blog for ProfitCalifornia Defamation Law Blogger Adrianos Facchetti describes how he multi-purposed his blog content to gain visibility in his niche of Internet defamation in just six months time.  Facchetti explains:

This is the "hub and spoke" strategy.  This is how it works.  Let's say I write a really great post and I want to make sure a lot of people read it. The first thing I would do is to upload it to as many websites as possible. So, I would upload the post to several bookmarking sites like social median and digg. Then I would upload it to JDSupra. Then I would tweet about it.

I also made sure that my blog posts updated automatically to my LinkedIN profile and to my Facebook profile via RSS feed.
My goal was to get my content in as many different places as I possibly could, which I did.  Use this strategy. It works
.

There's similar advice over at the Baby Boomer Entrepreneur, which in addition to Facchetti's suggestions recommends (1) recording blog posts for podcasts or videos and (2) circulating blog posts to Ezinearticles.com, a heavily trafficked site which will rock your SEO.