The Evolution of Lawyer Websites

NO LONGER JUST AN ONLINE BUSINESS CARD

When I first ventured out on my own as a barrister sole, one of the first things I did was ask a friend to help me get a website up and running.

At the time I looked around for good examples of other websites of those in my profession to learn from. It astonished me to find many solo lawyers did not have a website of their own. They may have been listed on the Yellow Pages website or in an obscure online legal directory, but they had no personal internet niche of their own.

To be sure, it was not so long ago in this country that lawyers were not permitted to advertise themselves beyond hanging out their shingle. So there may be something of an hangover from that era, where it is supposed that lawyers should not need to market themselves — you just set up shop and the business should come in.

I suppose my attitude at the time was not so far adrift. My view was that a lawyer’s website need only be the equivalent of an online business card. Give the public some details about how to contact you, what your areas of expertise are, and that is enough. I was not naive enough to think that this website would bring in vast amounts of new work, but at least someone could find my details if they went searching for me on the net.

My views have now changed and I recently updated my website to reflect this. Because Google and other search engines are a first port of call for many seeking legal services these days, it seems to me that web presence is much more important for attracting new clients by instilling confidence in them about your reputation and expertise and a web page plays a key role in that.

And, in light of a recent article appearing on the Above the Law blog authored by Kevin O’Keefe, it looks like I will need to continue to bring my web page up to speed.

O’Keefe suggests that lawyers who treat their websites as online business cards are going to find that they get very little online traffic. That was certainly my experience. All the more these days, says O’Keefe, when visitors to a site are not drawn through the front door (ie, the home page) but “through the windows, backdoors and cracks” as lawyers interact on the web outside the bounds of their webpage by blogging, and posting on Linkedin and Twitter. Nowadays, people go searching for relevant content, and, if they are sufficiently interested, trace it back to the law firm website or otherwise develop a relationship with that lawyer entirely independent of their website.

So what should lawyers be aiming to make their websites look like, and function as, from here on in? O’Keefe has some ideas about what they should include:

~ Curated blog posts and other insight from lawyers and other law firm professionals displayed right up front.

~ Social media activity (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) of these same professionals displayed up front. The key being to enable the discovery and following of lawyers on a personal level.

~ Stories about clients, prospective clients and referral sources as well as guest insight and commentary from them.

~ A focus on LinkedIn as the primary profile for lawyers. The community is already there and LinkedIn provides a platform for networking. In time, LinkedIn may enable the display of limited profiles into the website.

~ Websites are likely to move to a network or magazine format better enabling consumers of legal services to select a lawyer in an informed fashion. Core information will remain, but it will take a back seat.

I would like to add something to what O’Keefe suggests.

For some lawyers and firms, their website will become a first point of engagement for offering services. After all, if you have drawn someone in with relevant content, they may want a solution there and then. We live in an age of instant gratification, so why not offer your services straightaway in the form of a product that can be downloaded?

This ties in with what I have written elsewhere that, as document assembly solutions become increasingly popular, some firms will offer automated versions of their standard documents via their websites to service the untapped masses.

Imagine a new button on the law firm home page like “Shop” as you see on some product sites — thought I admit the word “Shop” doesn’t quite fit. Perhaps “Online Services” would suit better. The idea being that if someone is convinced of your expertise and is drawn to your site (even if through a side window rather than through the front door) you may capitalise on the ability to offer them a product without them having to pick up the phone or meet you in person.

Mai Chen’s Will to Live website is an example of what I am referring to (albeit hosted somewhat separately from her firm site). Here is a lawyer providing automated document assembly services herself, rather than letting third-party providers like LegalZoom do that work.

Our hope is that Quillo will enable many lawyers to do the same without too much fuss.

So here is to the evolving law firm website — which means its time to throw out that old business card.