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A recent review of hundreds of law firm Web sites accessed through the top firm listings on The New York Law Journal and law.comWeb sites [Editor's note: Both sites are law.com sites.] found that the vast majority of law firms believe it is essential to have their lawyers’ published articles, their firm newsletters and other firm publications on the Web. Given the importance that most law firms place on having these kinds of materials on their own Web sites, and given the significant client development benefits that can result, those few firms that do not do so would seem to be missing valuable opportunities. Even firms that have sites directed at recruiting rather than client development would do well to place their published materials on their sites — it demonstrates a firm’s ability and desire to stay current on legal developments. Some law firms are better at placing their publications on their Web sites than other firms. Relying on the best features from various law firm Web sites, there are a number of steps that a law firm can take to improve its site’s publications presentation. CLICKING WITH BROWSERS Many firms permit access to their articles and newsletters via a “Publications” link. This is most appropriate because visitors will have no problem figuring out where these materials are located. Other firms use a “Library,” “Resources” or “In Print” link. These also are effective for existing or prospective clients seeking to find some information about a firm’s publications. A “What’s New” link can work, but this requires some thought on the part of visitors to decide that it might include publications, and it implies that only recently published materials are on the site. Whatever link is used, it should be on a firm’s home page or on the first page after entering a Web site that has a splashy graphical introduction. Visitors looking for recent articles will not necessarily have the patience to keep moving from page to page searching for a firm’s publications. At the least, the search function or site map should make it easy for visitors to find a firm’s publications. There is little reason to place publications links only in specific practice areas, such as having bankruptcy-related articles on the Bankruptcy and Reorganization Practice Group page of a firm’s Web site. Doing so diminishes the ability of the firm’s publications to bring visitors into the site, because the main focus in practice area pages is on what is typically very dry prose describing the practice rather than on topical articles published in diverse and interesting journals or magazines. A firm that places its publications on these pages should consider mentioning that fact on its home page. Some firms with especially active publications programs highlight recent articles by lawyers, recent issues of their firm newsletters or current client memoranda on the first page of their Web site — a very effective way to draw viewers to the material. Another issue for firms to keep in mind is that they must regularly update the articles and other published materials on their Web site. Nothing makes a site seem more obsolete than having only old publications on it. Old, of course, is a relative term. However, a site that contains only law firm newsletters that were published two years ago or articles that were written four years ago does not reflect well on the firm. This is not to say that a firm’s Web site should have only new materials. Indeed, a long stream of employment law newsletters, for example, can demonstrate depth. And it is quite acceptable to put older materials in an accessible archive. But there must be some new materials on the site. Keep in mind, too, that if the Web site of a general practice law firm only has new publications in one area, such as health law, viewers may believe that that is the firm’s primary strength. ORGANIZING PUBLICATIONS There are two organizational issues to consider. First, firms often place their lawyers’ published articles, “white papers,” client memoranda, firm newsletters and press releases on different pages of their Web site. It generally is a good idea for firms to separate these materials because people will view a press release — completely written by in-house marketing people or outside public relations consultants and subject to no third-party review — differently than they will view an article by a lawyer at the firm, the publication of which essentially amounts to an endorsement as to its quality by an independent third party (the publication’s editor). The second organizational issue relates to the order in which publications are placed on a firm’s Web site. The best way to do this is to make the publications accessible by practice group, subject or date — or, preferably, by all of them. If done by practice group or subject, the listing should be as comprehensive as possible (e.g., Antitrust and Trade Practice, Copyright and Real Estate Finance) rather than more general (e.g., Corporate or Litigation). If done by date, the most recent publications should be listed first. Listing publications only alphabetically is of no benefit at all, unless a viewer has an idea of the complete title of an article that he or she is seeking. Making articles available only by the author’s name also is of little value; this just works for those people who have searched the site, know the name of the lawyer they are interested in retaining and want to see if that lawyer has written articles on a certain subject (e.g., class action litigation or the federal securities laws). INCLUDING TEXT There is some disagreement among law firm marketers as to whether the full text of published articles should be placed on a Web site or whether just the title or a teaser should be placed there, with the hope that interested parties will contact the firm for the full text and thus begin a relationship with the firm. Firms that provide full text typically offer visitors the ability to download Adobe Acrobat Reader. Whether one comes down on the side of full text (as I do) or not, all firms should include a link to the author’s bio as well as other contact information (such as the marketing director’s name, phone number and e-mail address). If a firm does not include full text of a published article, it should provide viewers with the opportunity to request it from the author, a departmental paralegal or the firm’s library or marketing staff. For an interesting discussion of the pros and cons of including full text, search The Law Marketing Portal, at www.lawmarketing.com. Another interesting tool used by firms that produce numerous newsletters and client updates is to allow visitors to fill in a form to be notified via e-mail when the firm’s Web site is updated. Such a form could permit visitors to request notification when a lawyer in the firm writes an article on a particular topic, too. Web sites should not be difficult for visitors to navigate and, indeed, should make it easy to obtain the information visitors are seeking. By following the suggestions outlined in this article, law firms can improve the usefulness of their Web sites to existing clients, prospective clients and referral sources. Steven A. Meyerowitz, a lawyer, is the president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc., a marketing communications consulting company based in Northport, N.Y.

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