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  • InsideTrack
  • September 02, 2015

    On Law Firm Websites: Potential Clients Judge the Book by Its Cover

    Distinctive websites can help law firms target and land potential clients. Even in this day and age, many law firms don’t have websites, or don’t invest enough into them, says one expert. In this article, learn why a good website is important for client development.

    Joe Forward

    woman at laptop looks concernedSept. 2, 2015 – If you don’t know by now, successful law firm business development generally requires a good law firm website. Yet many lawyers and law firms don’t have a website, don’t want to invest in a website, or have websites that are just, well, bad.

    “You may be the best lawyer out there, but if you don’t look like it, the potential client’s perception is that you aren’t, and their perception is their reality,” says Jeff Lantz, CEO of Esquire Interactive LLC, who is making the trek from Tucson to talk law firm websites at the 2015 Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference in Wisconsin Dells, Oct. 22-24.

    Lantz, an attorney, started his business in 2009. He recognized that lawyers and law firms needed help in keeping pace with Internet-based marketing strategies, especially amidst the rise of competition between law firms and outside market participants, such as LegalZoom.

    Why DoYou Need a Good Website?

    From customized website development and content to search engine optimization and social media, from law firm videos and branding to ongoing Internet marketing, Lantz’s business helps lawyers cast wider nets for potential clients in this Internet age.

    The majority of his clients are solo and small firms, and he works within their budgets to find solutions. “I hear it. Solo and small firm lawyers run tight ships. But you can’t grow a business without marketing, and law firms are businesses.”

    He’s not the only game in town. But Lantz says many other outfits don’t offer customized packages, and firms are left with websites that don’t distinguish them from their competitors. Distinctive websites, he says, are a must in this “search war” era.

    Consumers searching for attorneys are doing their homework and they are doing it on the Internet. Google is the primary search tool for a majority of Americans, and Lantz says two-thirds don’t look beyond the first page of an organic search result.

    Try a Google search for “Wisconsin personal injury attorneys” and what comes up? The first three slots are paid positions, as well as the ads in the right-hand column. But Lantz says people often skip those paid ads, and go right to the “organic,” unpaid results.

    Google and other search engines use complex algorithms to determine who is placed in those precious organic slots. And having a good website with crucial components for optimization is going to increase the chances of showing up on that first page.

    “If you are not on that first page of search results, two-thirds of the time people won’t even see your firm. You won’t even be considered,” said Lantz. He said customized websites allow law firms to attract the types of cases and clients that really want.

    Of course, word-of-mouth and referrals are still viable sources of business, Lantz says. But a good website may determine whether a consumer actually seals the deal or not.

    What Does a Good Website Look Like?

    Obviously, the website should be pleasing to the eye with a dynamic design. Take a look at Esquire Interactive’s website and you’ll see that Lantz takes this seriously.

    Why is this important? Consider this: consumers will spend between three and 14 seconds to decide whether a website is worth the time. If they don’t see something they like, they’ll simply hit the “back” button and go on to the next website on the list.

    Joe ForwardJoe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    “It’s really critical that you capture people’s attention and get them to make the decision to invest more time and learn more about the firm,” Lantz said. “Ideally, after spending some time on the website, they will determine that this is the right firm for them.”

    Review other law firm website’s deemed outstanding, and you’ll see a pattern emerge. All of them have dramatic or interesting images, short and catchy messages, and white space that creates a professional, uncluttered look. And most are short on text.

    “If there’s a lot of text on a homepage, it can backfire,” Lantz said. “It’s not that people won’t read the last four paragraphs. They won’t read any of it.”

    The Lawyerist blog recently released its 2015 edition of “Best Law Firm Websites,” based on “distinctive, well-designed, responsive websites with clear calls to action.”

    All of them have homepages with a distinctive look, including dramatic images. Cooley LLP, with offices mainly on the East and West coasts, won a 2015 People’s Choice Webby Award in the law category. It’s easy to see why this is a top-rated website.

    This award is based on things legal consumers want in the areas of content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience.

    What Are the Other Aspects of a Good Website?

    Of course, the website’s design and look are only one component. Potential clients will make decisions based on what feels right to them, what makes them feel comfortable.

    Good advertising reaches people on a personal level, Lantz said. In recent years, some ads have trended towards humor to make consumers feel comfortable or connected with the product or service. These concepts are no different for law firm websites.

    “I call it the client-centered website,” Lantz said. “It’s putting clients first in terms of understanding their needs. A lot of times, lawyers put tons of information about themselves and awards they won 20 years ago in law school. While it’s good to show your qualifications, people generally don’t care. They want to know how you can help.”

    If you’re a divorce lawyer, for instance, they want to know how the process works and how your advocacy can help them achieve a desired result. If you’re a business lawyer, they want to know how your work can protect them, or help them meet the bottom line.

    In addition, potential clients naturally have concerns about fees. For most clients, Lantz says, legal fees are going to be one of the top three concerns. In many cases, other than personal injury firms who say there’s no fee unless you win, attorneys don’t put anything on the site about fees. They should.

    “I’m not suggesting that actual fees be disclosed,” Lantz said. “However, you can acknowledge that fees are a concern. You can talk about how fees are billed, the steps you take to control fees, how you effectively use technology to minimize fees, and whether you accept credit cards or other alternative billing arrangements." 

    “A lot of times, firms don't even acknowledge the concerns of clients regarding fees. As a result, they risk sending the message that the firm doesn't understand these client concerns, or worse, that the firm will be more interested in their financial interests than those of the clients." 

    Final Word: Blogging

    Blogging on law firm websites will also increase the chances of being discovered in search results, Lantz said. And blogging provides an opportunity for lawyers to speak to potential clients on areas in which they have an expertise. This gives them something of value, which they appreciate, and positions the writer as a leader or go-to lawyer.

    Blogging also provides content for other outlets, like social media, that can reach a broader audience and direct them to the website, says Lantz. “Getting them there is a major first step. Keeping them there will encourage them to follow-up and hire you.”


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