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It’s no surprise that savvy prospective clients do their homework before hiring a law firm, and they often start with an Internet search. Potential clients may start with Google, or visit Martindale.com, or use other online resources to help develop a shortlist that — with any luck — includes your firm. And they no doubt will end up at your Web site. Because opinions about law firms are influenced by a variety of factors — including personal connections, reputation, news and industry “buzz” — they may arrive at your Web site with a predisposition to hire you. Don’t underestimate how your Web site can be an important step in the client-acquisition chain of events. ENHANCING IMPRESSIONS Most firms have at least a basic Web presence. With a few exceptions, law firms all make similar claims of excellence — industry expertise; proven results; innovative, creative lawyers; attentive client service; etc. In today’s competitive legal industry, it is extremely difficult to stand out on the Web as the firm of choice for prospective clients, even in an area where your firm is truly a leader. Many firms miss the important opportunity to impress potential clients online by offering standard “brochure” Web sites. Brochure sites do little more than tell visitors about your firm’s expertise and capabilities. While many firms employ them, brochure Web sites are not effective at enhancing the visitor’s impression of your the firm, which is exactly what your site must accomplish in order to attract clients. The better option: Use a “show” strategy — let your site demonstrate your firm’s experience and capabilities. If you offer a well-organized collection of content to support your claims of excellence and experience, you can elevate visitors’ impressions of your firm. Web sites should place increased emphasis on “knowledge content” — alerts, FAQs, legal news, newsletters, articles or publications. This material differs from “marketing content” — firm background and news, offices, practice areas, attorney bios, etc. ORGANIZING FOR USABILITY The biggest mistake law firms make, especially with brochure Web sites, is presenting the information the way it is was organized for internal use. This approach conceals valuable content behind lengthy marketing copy, and creates a site structure that users must learn before they can navigate smoothly and find anything of real value to them. For example, one New England firm placed hundreds of articles, alerts and other documents on its Web site, at considerable expense. But the links were buried at the bottom of practice-area descriptions, all least three or four screens long and accessible only to truly determined hunters! Users must be able to navigate your site intuitively, proceeding down contextual paths. As a visitor proceeds, the system should dynamically and automatically present listings and links to related items across multiple content categories. While viewing a publication, for example, visitors should see the firm’s related legal services, events, e-newsletters available by subscription and client alerts. While reading about an upcoming healthcare-industry event, a user should easily access the speaking attorney’s bio, related HIPAA news, practice area descriptions and healthcare case studies. There are many possibilities. The strategy can be applied using each firm’s particular vocabulary and content taxonomy. Web site content should be stored in databases, categorized with keywords and other descriptors that make searching and content cross-referencing possible. When properly implemented, the content relationships and links are automatic, enabling the intuitive navigation and usability that your visitors expect. Effective Web sites can reinforce and strengthen impressions about a law firm by presenting the material visitors seek and by making it easy for them to find it. Steven Rovniak is director of client services at Interdimensions Corp., a Web and software services firm based in Boston and New York. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.interdimensions.com.

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