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Though creating and maintaining a Web site may seem daunting, especially in lean economic times, the Internet is a marketing tool that some say attorneys simply cannot ignore. In an interview with The Legal Intelligencer on solo and small firm marketing, Philadelphia-based Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg & Ellers marketing director Pamela McCarthy said she could not be more emphatic when she advised practitioners to get a Web site. “People are going to the Internet today to find out about attorneys,” McCarthy said. “Whether they want to hire them, whether they’re opposite them in a case, whether they’ve heard about them, whether they want to refer someone to them. If people can’t find you in today’s technological world, that’s a negative in terms of marketing. It’s not even a neutral.” Similarly, HTMLawyers Inc. president Micah Buchdahl said he always tells firms that Web sites are a must-do for business development. “A solid and professional Web presence is as expected as having a fax machine, or a telephone for that matter,” the marketing consultant wrote for his Internet Marketing Attorney Web site. Significantly, an effective site will also level the playing field for a small firm facing competition from its larger neighbors, Buchdahl said. As attorney Jason P. Lisi, president of Legal Internet Solutions Inc., pointed out, a firm can present any image it would like on the Internet. “The big firm can look [homey] and the small firm can look top 100,” Lisi said. “[That's] much harder to do with things like your offices. … A solo practitioner is not going to be able to match what a huge 400-lawyer firm can get. But on the Web, because it’s designed, and nobody knows, you can make your firm look any way you want.” Kimmel & Silverman, with offices in Ambler, Pa., and Haddonfield, N.J., enjoys a niche practice in lemon law. The firm began in 1990 with partners Craig Thor Kimmel and Robert M. Silverman and now consists of 10 attorneys and more than 25 support staff. Communications and client services director Michael Sacks said that since its launch in 2000, the firm’s Web site has helped grow the business 25 percent. In fact, Sacks said that according to Web site data, more than 2,000 new clients each year find the firm on the Internet. And since Kimmel & Silverman handles 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year, that’s about 40 percent specifically mentioning the Web site when they e-mail or call. Interestingly, Sacks said the goal of the site was to educate visitors, since the main obstacle the firm faced was consumers unaware of their rights. Accordingly, the site includes lemon law rights; answers to frequently asked questions; a newsroom providing up-to-the-minute information; and links sections, among others. Visitors can also take interactive worksheets with them on car-buying expeditions. And the site permits consumers to contact the firm via e-mail or an electronic form. Lisi said the Web is a great way to reach out to potential clients who might be intimidated by calling an attorney or traveling into the city. He pointed out that while it may be hard to imagine, many people in need of legal services don’t know any lawyers. But virtually anyone who can pay for legal services is on the Web — whether at home, at work or at a public kiosk. In addition to attracting clients, Lisi said, the Web is an effective tool for retaining clients and bringing in referrals. Existing clients may not be aware of a firm’s various practice areas and thus might fail to make a referral. Accordingly, viewers should find an interactive site with practice area descriptions that are easily understood by non-lawyers. James E. Beasley Jr. and Slade H. McLaughlin of Philadelphia’s Beasley, Casey & Erbstein teamed up to build a firm Web site a few years ago. Beasley said the two tried it more for fun than as a marketing tool. But the site effectively serves clients and other attorneys, he said. The site contains attorney bios, extensive links, a building tour and an electronic case evaluation form among other features. Though Beasley said the site would likely be updated soon, as it is, it is not expensive or difficult to maintain. But where does an attorney begin if he or she is not tech savvy or wants professional assistance? One might start by selecting a Web site designer. “A good Web site designer,” Lisi wrote for a Philadelphia Estate Planning Council newsletter, “is a combination of artist, computer expert and marketing guru.” In his article, Lisi recommends gathering the following information before signing on the dotted line: 1. Find out the number of Web sites the firm has designed from top to bottom. If the firm employs templates, Lisi stated, it probably would use them to make your Web site, and could use one that was employed in the past for a competitor. 2. Get references. Find out how many sites designed by the firm pertain to law or another profession. 3. Does the designer provide ongoing services such as checking for updated copyright dates, new happenings and misspellings. According to Buchdahl, additional considerations for firms venturing on to the Web include selecting a domain name, establishing a budget, targeting an audience and determining a set of features. Among a firm’s initial steps should be choosing a domain name, Buchdahl states on his Internet Marketing Attorney site. The Beasley Firm, for example, uses www.tortlaw.com, while www.lemonlaw.com belongs to Kimmel & Silverman. And Philadelphia domestic relations practitioner Patricia Dugan of Dugan & Kosinski can be reached via the Web at www.canonlawyer.net, since she is one of only a handful of attorneys to offer both civil and canon law services. These three sites demonstrate Buchdahl’s domain name advice at work — chiefly, selecting an intuitive name or using the firm’s practice area. Other options, Buchdahl states on his site, are using the first two names of a multiple-named firm, or for solos, simply using the practitioner’s full name provided it isn’t hard to spell. According to Buchdahl, establishing a budget would be the next logical step. “The size of the firm is not a determining factor in how much you spend,” his article states. “I have worked with solos that spend tens of thousands, and large firms that spend tens of hundreds. It depends more on the type of practice, the type of clients you seek and the amount of time you want to dedicate to the ongoing project.” And, Buchdahl advises, it’s more cost-effective for a small firm to make a big splash on the Web since other mediums like advertising, brochures and seminars can run up tens of thousands to do right. Firms should expect the bulk of their startup costs to go toward design and development. Additional costs would likely include domain name registration, hosting and maintenance fees, search engine optimization, traffic reporting and site marketing. Jenkins Law Library Internet Librarian Daniel Giancaterino said that when building Web sites, firms get what they pay for. Attorneys might expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 for a basic introductory site to $10,000 to $15,000 for a custom site that can be frequently updated and is supported by hosting, marketing, search engine optimization and maintenance. Of course the sky is the limit. Lisi said it is not unheard of for large firms to spend as much as $300,000 on their sites, and Buchdahl has had solo practitioners spend up to $75,000 as part of aggressive, consumer-based marketing campaigns. According to their Web sites, Martindale-Hubbell and the Pennsylvania Bar Association offer customizable templates for law firm sites. The bar association’s prices range from $1,000 for development and $30 per month for hosting to $1,500 for development and $40 per month hosting, with expansions and custom sites available by request. Both Buchdahl and Lisi recommended custom sites over the boilerplate variety, but Giancaterino said he thinks a template site is preferable to no Internet presence at all. According to Giancaterino, people look to the Internet before other resources when they want information. And if consumers can’t find a company on the Web, they will wonder why that company doesn’t have a site. Accordingly, a static brochure would be better than nothing. However, Giancaterino noted that people are getting more sophisticated in their Internet use and are really looking for more than canned content. Dugan, the family law and canon attorney, decided to invest in a Web site because she offers a hard-to-find service. She said the return on her investment has been good, not only because clients find her on the Web, but also because the media finds her and contacts her for canon law expertise. “If you don’t get a presence on the Web and learn how to use it,” Dugan cautioned, “small firms at least are going to be obsolete. You’ve got to do this in order to keep growing your practice and learning.” Once a firm has taken the plunge by choosing a domain name and settling on a budget, Buchdahl recommends identifying end-users. A site would include different features depending on whether consumer or corporate clients are targeted. But must-have features include a firm overview, detailed attorney biographies, practice area descriptions and contact information, Buchdahl states on his Internet Attorney site. Firm Web sites might also include changing content, newsletters or articles, representative clients and maps and directions. Some firms even feature live chats and Webcams. Not surprisingly, the experts interviewed all agreed that having a teen-age acquaintance build a firm’s site is an absolute don’t. Dugan, who became enamored with the idea of having her own site last year, turned to a professional consultant since she could supply content but felt an expert would make her and her site look good. “Do not use cousin Suzy’s boyfriend,” Dugan said. She recommended getting price quotes and noted that the cheapest is usually far from the best. Lisi said another pitfall to avoid is “technology for the sake of technology.” He explained that while flash and music might seem appealing, they make it hard for search engines to read the site. And, he pointed out, people typically click on “skip intro” when faced with flash technology. Firms should also avoid long-term commitments because the Internet changes constantly, Lisi said. He recommended a maximum contract of 18 months. He advised reading the fine print to avoid an automatically renewing contract. Finally, firms should choose developers who market if not legal services, then at least professional services. “It’s not like you’re marketing peanut butter,” Lisi said. There are ethical considerations that kids with computers would not even consider. According to Buchdahl, ethical considerations include disclaimer language, states’ rules, attorney-client relationship, conflicts, confidentiality, unauthorized practice of law, and advertising restrictions. Buchdahl and Lisi both cautioned that a Web site cannot be the sole marketing tool for any firm, however. Attorneys still need a marketing plan backed by reliable strategies for business development.

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