Mar 18, 2010

How Lawyers Can Use Webinars to Attract and Retain Clients (Part I)

According to the 2009 Benchmark Report on Professional Services Marketing, seminars and webinars are some of the most effective tools for attracting new clients and retaining existing ones.  The Report found that professional services use in person seminars (66%) and webinars (45%) to identify service providers and make hiring decisions.  The results apply with equal force to legal services; at the  Marketing with a Book blog, Henry DeVries writes that:

In 1991 a random survey of the top 1,000 U.S. law firms found that 89 percent held at least one client seminar per year. In 1999, 94 percent of law firms were regularly holding seminars. Lawyers at the top 1,000 firms ranked seminars as the most effective tool for cross-selling and gaining new clients (Source: FGI Research, 1999).

I've already discussed at length the benefits and how-tos of speaking events.  But for all their effectiveness, seminars and speaking events aren't without their drawbacks.  For starters, if you have a national or multi-state practice, you may have to travel to the event on your own dime, and lose billable time while you're away from the office.  Local events are more convenient if you can find a group that's willing to host you.  But you may have to rent space and serve refreshments, which are an added cost that may outweigh the benefits if only a handful of people actually show up.

Though webinars can't replace face to face events, they are a cost-efficient way to supplement live activities.  With today's low cost, user-friendly technologies, even a solo lawyer on a tight budget can put on several webinars a year and perhaps even make a few extra dollars by bundling and reselling the content.  Below, I'll describe what a webinar is, suggest ways that a webinar can work for any practice and finally, give some practical tips on getting started.

THE WHAT, HOW AND WHY ABOUT WEBINARS:

1.  What is a webinar?

Basically, a webinar is what the term implies -- a seminar delivered over the web.  Webinars offer several advantages over their poorer relation, the conference call.  During a webinar, you can present power point slides from your computer that participants can view on their screen.  Many webinar products (I'll discuss them in more detail at the end of this post) allow you to use whiteboard and mark-up features, so that you can highlight parts of your presentation, or demonstrate a skill - perhaps how to fill in a form or improve a contract draft - in real time. 

Other webinar products offer additional features that set them apart from conference calls.  Some incorporate video, so that participants can see you while you deliver your presentation while others will tape the webinar so that you can post it on YouTube or distribute a copy on a CD or thumb drive.  Some products allow participants to submit written questions or comments during the presentation which can be viewed by all other participants through a side bar.  During conference calls, listeners are often intimidated from posing questions, either to avoid being recorded or because they're simply not comfortable doing so.   All of these features make webinars are far more impressive and interactive for potential or existing clients than a simple conference call.

2.  Are webinars better for existing or prospective clients?

Webinars work extremely well for both.  A webinar gives a prospective client a more personalized and impressive introduction to your services.  In addition, a webinar can educate prospective clients, making them realize a need for your services.

As for ongoing webinars, they're a great way to help existing clients keep up to date on developments in the law while showing them that you value their business.   And of course, like newsletters, webinars let you stay in touch with existing clients so that you'll be first to come to mind when they're asked for referrals.

3.  What kinds of topics and practice areas work best for webinars?  Can webinars work even for a consumer oriented practice?

The scope of potential webinar topics is limited only by your imagination.  Consider the following ideas:

  • Corporate, tax or regulatory attorneys:  The law in these practice areas is constantly in flux and clients are subject to an array of compliance issues.  Webinars are ideal for providing updates on changes in the law or offering tips on compliance and ways to keep out of trouble.
  • Small business lawyers:  In addition to the issues discussed above, small businesses face a variety of legal issues, from leasing, zoning and property issues to employment, trademarks and copyright.  Many times these businesses don't have in house counsel, and aren't able to determine whether they need a lawyer or not.  Educating business owners about the legal issues they may face can help them figure out when it's time to call a lawyer - and that lawyer could likely be you!
  • Consumer and general practice lawyers:  Holding a webinar on broad consumer issues, such as the need for will or how to draft a lease may not attract much attention if only because so many lawyers offer these seminars already.  However, niche topics - such as estate planning for single parents or parents, tips on writing a contract to hire a nanny or the basics of special education law are more likely to generate interest because these audiences less frequently served by in person seminars.
  • Unbundled providers:  Many lawyers are beginning to handle legal matters on an unbundled basis.  For example, a lawyer might draft documents for a business incorporation or will but the client would have the responsibility to file the documents with the Secretary's office or execute the will before a notary.   Though most lawyers provide written instructions to clients on how to perform these tasks, a webinar could also be used to supplement the information provided - and clients would have a chance to ask questions as well. 
4.    What kinds of materials should I prepare for a webinar?
Again, you have many options.  You can create a power point presentation that participants will be able to view when they log in to the webinar.  Or, as you become more adept delivering webinars online, you could show websites to clients as part of your presentation.  For example, many government websites contain information on rules or filings that may interest your clients, but they may not know how to navigate the site.  You could show them how during the webinar.

5.  What technology is required to put on a webinar?
There are a number of different free and low cost webinar packages available.  I recommend using those that are "cloud" based, i.e., accessible over the web rather than those that need to be downloaded onto your computer or participants' computers.  In this way, participants can log in easily without any advance preparation and further, you avoid any Mac/PC compatibility issues.

As for specific programs, consider the following low cost options:
 DimDim - free for up to 20 users and also supports video (so participants can see you on the screen) and recording capability.
Glance - $49 per month for up to 100 users who can call in free (or available as a one time day pass for $9.95).
Go To Webinar - $49 per month, but only allows up to 15 users; up to 100 will cost $99/per month. 
WebEx $49 per month for up to 25 users; also offered with per minute charge.
Huddle.net - Really a hybrid web conferencing/project management tool.  $40/month for up to 5 users, but not an apples-apples comparison because the Huddle system includes document storage and other team management tools.

All of these services offer free service either on small scale or a trial basis, so play around with them to figure out which ones you like best.  In Part II of this post, I'll go through the nuts and bolts of setting up a webinar.