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Savvy law firms employ a variety of marketing techniques to reach the audiences who are vital to their practices: clients, prospects, lateral partners and associates, and even the media. In the digital age, firms that want to stay on the cutting edge must continuously reassess whether their Internet presence allows their messages to be seen, noticed, and, most important, retained. As technological advances keep changing the way we give and receive information, law firms have a host of digital options to increase their visibility. WEB SITE CONTENT Over the past five years, the law firm Web site has evolved into a much more sophisticated tool for communicating news to different audiences. Posting firm news releases, newsletters and news alerts, and articles written by or quoting firm lawyers has become a standard means of reaching target audiences and the general public. There is no question that the media look to a firm’s site for credible information. Out-of-date content, missing bios, badly written copy, and the lack of new information all contribute unfavorably to the firm’s image. It’s therefore essential for a Web site to be constantly updated and to offer easy navigation to additional resources and information. “When I speak with reporters, I always refer them to our Web site, which contains the full bios of all our attorneys, as well as articles they may have published, speeches they have given, and other firm-related content,” says Laura Perry, director of communications at Washington, D.C.-based Piper Rudnick. “Some firms allow lawyers to maintain the primary versions of their bios locally, but we found that the Web site got out of date too quickly under that approach,” Perry adds. “And with offices in 10 states, it’s a big help to update information only once, on the Web, and have it available to all. Online research sources like Martindale-Hubbell or West’s FindLaw are important, but they will never have as much information about us and our lawyers as we can post on our own site.” Ensuring that the firm’s Web site is easy to find extends beyond merely informing clients and friends. Besides registering with the major search engines, you need to ensure that your firm and select practices will appear at the top of the list of sites found, when someone does a search. Submitting your site to get it listed in the search engine doesn’t mean it will appear on the first page of search results. If your firm appears on the second or third page, consider search engine optimization to move your position higher. Few IT departments handle this internally; the learning curve of sophisticated and complex software and constant maintenance required to remain competitive makes an SEO service a much more cost-effective alternative. SEO companies create a system of pages, links, and tags that work in conjunction with your site to increase its relevancy to the search term, thereby raising your position among the results. A Web site provides an essential and obvious electronic foundation for a law firm’s brand and image, and can be an effective means of disseminating firm news and generating new business. Here are other avenues to consider. “Pushing” news out to audiences through e-mail news alerts and electronic newsletters can be another effective element of a marketing package. Attorneys at Washington, D.C.-based Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn regularly send e-mail alerts with legislative updates to a subscription list of clients and others affected by legislative changes. The alerts are also posted on the firm’s Web site. “While our primary aim is to reach and inform our clients and prospects about developments in the law, it’s obvious that the media use this as a resource, too,” notes Erika Ratner, director of business development for Arent Fox. “We’ve had reporters contact attorneys directly for interviews as a result of the postings, and we’ve been given attribution for use of the content.” In addition to the alerts, which can range in length from several paragraphs to several pages, two of the firm’s practice groups distribute by e-mail shorter case summaries or updates with important information for their immigration and health care clients. Another means of digital communication is electronic newsletters, sent to lists of interested parties who have subscribed through the firm’s Web site. Arent Fox’s three publications — e-TipSheet on e-commerce news, FTC Review and Health Law Trends — contain information that is less time-sensitive than issues covered in the alerts, and focus on broader topics. “To maintain a newsletter, whether in print form or digital, takes a tremendous amount of time and effort,” says Ratner. “It’s very easy for firms to fall into the trap of starting up a practice-specific newsletter, but then allowing it to lag as other work-related tasks take priority.” The effort expended to produce timely and regular newsletter issues every month, she says, is validated by the feedback they receive. PRACTICE AREA WEB SITES Law firms sometimes take their expertise in a specialty practice to a new level by creating a dedicated Web site, separate from the firm’s overall Web site. For example, D.C.’s Keller and Heckman developed a stand-alone site, www.packaginglaw.com, as an online resource for news and information about the international regulation of food and drug packaging. The site is aimed at manufacturers of packaging and packaging materials; producers of food, drugs and cosmetics; and others in the global packaging community. According to Traci Mott, the firm’s marketing manager, the media visit the site often. “They reprint information we post, interview our lawyers, and monitor it for updates. It’s been a great success on that front,” she says. They held a press briefing for the reporters at BNA’s Food Safety Reporter, she continues, “to familiarize them with the site and to introduce them to the attorneys in the group, and now they check in regularly for story topics and ideas. Another publication reprints all our stories with an EU slant, and we’ve since placed two of our attorneys on that publication’s advisory board.” Mott adds that one sign the site has a global reach is that foreign media have asked for translations and reprints. While it’s a commitment and an investment few firms so far have been willing to make, we can expect to see many more practice-specific sites. Martin Gold, director of marketing for Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy’s Washington, D.C., office, says that the firm’s Web site has directly incorporated NewsEdge, a service that provides business and world news. Attorneys, clients, and others visiting the site can search for industry-specific news or global or national news at any time. Another move the firm made was to implement a unique online procedure with a Georgia bankruptcy court, which benefited the attorneys involved in an important Chapter 11 case, as well as others. The agreement let the firm post certain case filings online and created direct links from the court’s site ( www.ganb.uscourts.gov) to an electronic docket maintained by Powell Goldstein. “This procedure allowed public access to a docket of major case filings … and the media took definite advantage of it as a credible resource,” says Laura Weidig, director of firmwide information services at Powell Goldstein in Atlanta. “Our site also maintained up-to-date case news, important dates and press releases for the case, as well as other informational links for key case contacts. We’ve done this a few more times since then, and it’s becoming increasingly popular in other major bankruptcy cases,” she adds. EXTERNAL RESOURCES Many firms also rely on outside services to help them reach their key audiences. Typically, firms send day-to-day releases over newswires, such as PR Newswire, that reach business and select industry media. One disadvantage is that these services tend to be expensive; more important, they do not specifically target the legal media. Two alternatives that reach out to legal editors and reporters are LawFirmSPY, which publishes a free biweekly briefing by e-mail with law firm news and analysis, and Jaffe Legal News Service. The JLNS offers legal journalists and others a free weekly e-mail providing access to legal experts, articles available for publication, and firm-related news. It also links to a site that enables journalists to search for legal experts by topic or practice. Recent technological advances have produced a variety of remarkably effective methods for law firms to provide information to key audiences, generate media attention, and develop new business. Any firm that wants to get serious about its marketing efforts must make a commitment, dedicate resources, and explore all of the options, both inside and outside the firm. In a world where information moves at the speed of light, firms that fail to stay abreast of change risk falling behind at an equally rapid rate. Vivian Hood is vice president/media relations at Bethesda, Md.-base Jaffe Associates Inc., which provides business development products and services to the legal industry. She can be reached at [email protected].

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