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It’s not news that we live in an online world where law firms must have an online presence to compete. But is your firm’s Web site generating the business it could? Unfocused Web sites are a missed opportunity, according to legal marketers. And they say midsized and small firms are often more prone to allowing their sites to be out of date or not user-friendly. But midsized and small firms with limited budgets for Web site maintenance and upgrades should not be daunted by the price. Though Web site creation can cost thousands of dollars, legal marketers say the cost to maintain a good site can be as little as a few thousand dollars each year, and can pay for itself with the business development it provides. It is important to note that law firm Web sites serve different purposes depending on the firm. The goals of law firm Web sites vary by the audience the firm wants to reach, said Micah Buchdahl, president of HTMLawyers Inc. If a firm services mostly corporate clients, the site should be geared to showcasing the firm’s portfolio of expertise, Buchdahl said. General counsels are likely already familiar with the firm, but need to be sold on its abilities, he said. On the other hand, for personal injury, medical malpractice or class action firms, the main concern should be whether those potential clients would be able to find the site at all, according to Buchdahl. “If it’s a law firm where the focus is a consumer market . . . you are looking for the Web site itself to generate the business. The focus is often more on being found than the value of the content,” Buchdahl said. For those types of sites, Buchdahl said the home page must provide several ways to contact the firm, including a phone number, e-mail address and contact form. “The main page has to tell who [the firm is], why I should use it and provide an easy call to action. Because in many cases, many consumer-type users aren’t going to go beyond the home page,” Buchdahl said. Jason Lisi, president of Legal Internet Solutions Inc., said firms that don’t have a strategy for their Web sites before launching them would never get the response they are looking for. “Before they even get started, firms should have an idea [of] what they want from a Web site in the first place. Is it to draw in clients? Is it to a way to easily communicate with attorneys at the firm? Is it to look impressive to similar and opposing law firms when you are in a case against one of them?” Lisi said. Avoid These Mistakes Lisi said a common mistake he saw on law firm Web sites was a site design that made it difficult for users to find a way to contact the firm or a specific attorney. Lisi said users should be able to find a phone number or e-mail address within one to two clicks. Buchdahl said another mistake was allowing a site’s content to become outdated. Any kind of event the firm was involved with should be displayed on the site, he said. If the firm is sponsoring an event or hosting a lunch, it should be updated on the site. Another pitfall takes place during the design process, according to Buchdahl. Firms allow the site’s design and content to become too democratic. “When everyone weighs in on the design, navigation, look, and so on, the end result is almost always close to disastrous. Everything becomes a diluted compromise of an idea that once might have worked,” Buchdahl said. Legal marketing consultant Stacy Clark said firms should show their personality on their Web sites. She pointed to Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin’s Web site, which has a section that is just for laughs. Law firm Web sites are often cookie-cutter, Clark said. So many sites have the same stock photos – glasses on a table, two lawyers talking in a law library, gavels, scales – which don’t show users how the firm is different. Clark said she favors pictures of the firm’s attorneys through the site, rather than generic images. Importance of Content Midsized firms that are in competition with bigger firms for the same business should take heed of their Web sites, Buchdahl said. “If you are a midsized firm positioning yourself as an alternative to a big full-service firm, it’s more important to show you have the substance there. There are plenty of small firms that pack a larger punch than many of much larger competitors on their sites,” Buchdahl said. Clark said she tells her clients to fashion their Web sites so that clients want to keep coming back for information. Clark said the sites should focus on providing content that helps clients make more money and avoid litigation. “The challenge for Web sites is to provide more than a bio. . . . I encourage my clients to provide something that shouts a client’s name,” Clark said, adding later, “I encourage them to put things on the Web site that help clients ‘sleep better at night.’” Such content can be checklists to prevent litigation, information on compliance issues, how-to booklets and cost saving tips, Clark said. Search Engine Optimization For firms with consumer-driven client bases, the appearance of the firm’s Web site on Internet search engines is of the utmost importance, according to Lisi. That process is called search engine optimization. According to Lisi, SEO depends on three factors – how a site is built and written, whether it is registered with search engine directories properly, and the number and quality of links from related sites pointing to it. Philadelphia personal injury lawyer Lenard A. Cohen said he had benefited from focusing on SEO. Cohen said he used to be listed on a generic attorney-listing site, but found that it wasn’t optimizing his exposure. Cohen, a solo practitioner, worked with Lisi to develop his own site, and enrolled in pay-per-click advertising with search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Pay-per-click works by having advertisers choose key words that, when searched for, will direct searchers to a particular Web site. Cohen said the cost was greater than his old listing, but the return was far greater. “When I was with [the generic Web site], I got five or 10 calls a year. Now I get five or 10 calls a week,” Cohen said. Moreover, Cohen said the quality of the clients was better than someone who just looked him up in the phone book. Gary Hunt, managing shareholder of Tucker Arensberg in Pittsburgh, said his firm was in the planning stages of launching a new Web site. He said the current site was about five years old and the firm wanted a site that did a better job drawing in the users. Hunt said one focus would be making sure the home page was “dynamic,” so that users are engaged by the content, rather than having to look for the content. Whatever the firm’s strategy, Web sites are a business development tool, according to Clark. And as such, sites should showcase the uniqueness of their firms. “Firms have to come up with a unique selling point that separates them in mind of [clients],” Clark said.

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