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Editor’s note:The following is an excerpt from “Hit the Jackpot,” our cover story from the inaugural issue ofSmall Firm Business . This article profiles several law firms that have creative, innovative marketing campaigns. Sprenger & Lang is a 14-lawyer firm that has secured more than $200 million in awards and settlements since it was founded in 1989. With offices in the Loring Heights section of Minneapolis and in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, D.C., it ranks among the top 25 firms on The National Law Journal‘s 2003 Plaintiff’s Hot List of top litigators. So its marketing plan must be on fire, right? Well, not necessarily. Focusing on class action litigation, most of Sprenger & Lang’s work is conducted on a contingent-fee basis. In the past, the firm relied on tried and true methods to attract plaintiffs, such as a Yellow Pages directory advertisement that highlighted its class action specialty, and active networking with members of the National Employment Lawyers Association. But the firm’s leaders weren’t satisfied. They wanted a more sophisticated, accessible way to convey their passion and personality. Clearly their efforts were producing results — the firm’s revenues have been at least $4 million for the last six years. However, when you combine working for contingency fees with cases that can take years to resolve, any firm has to be especially savvy about continuing to build its practice to ensure a relatively stable cash flow. Historically, the firm had good luck working with a public relations firm to generate positive press. “One of the best ways for us to get the right people to call us is through good publicity about cases that we’re actually doing,” says Minneapolis partner Susan Coler. “This gets people to identify us with class work and it’s one of the reasons that we work with a PR firm.” But class actions need just the right confluence of clients and cause of action, and Sprenger & Lang faced some challenging dilemmas when vetting possible clients. Coler estimates that up to 90 percent of the inquiries do not bear fruit. They are from people who either don’t have actionable claims, or don’t have claims that could rise to the level of a class action. To help improve that ratio, last year the firm decided to focus on its Web site, and revamp it to be a key branding element of its marketing campaign. The firm ponied up nearly $30,000 for the project. But that figure is probably a bit lower than the real cost. “We did a lot of the writing ourselves, which saved a lot of money,” says Coler, “so that amount doesn’t include my time as well as that of several other attorneys.” The goal of the redesign was twofold. The first aim was to have the Web site pop up near the top of the results list when a potential plaintiff ran a Google search. To help the firm improve its search engine results, Sprenger & Lang is working with a “site optimizer” who is offering advice to improve the firm’s ranking. For instance, the content of a Web site helps determine how relevant it is to the query of the researcher. By using targeted headlines and keywords, the Web site’s ranking can improve. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important consideration — because potential clients are unlikely to scroll through several pages of results. But SEO is an evolving science. As search engine developers discover common techniques that are used to manipulate rankings, they adjust their methodology. (See searchenginewatch.com .) Sprenger’s second objective was to create a site that appeals to both clients and potential referral sources. They enlisted the help of Web designer Amanda Troyer and programmers at Echo Alley, a Web development company based in Fort Vancouver, Wash. While helping the attorneys articulate what was distinct about their practice, Troyer noticed that a common theme of persistence arose in her conversations. She suggested using the Winston Churchill quote that is now central to the firm’s branding: “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” Kite imagery now appears on every page of the firm’s Web site. To see how far the Sprenger Web site ( sprengerlang.com ) has come, use the Wayback Machine search engine at archive.org to view prior versions of the homepage. Maintaining the site is not inexpensive, but the lawyers keep things in perspective. “One of the things we keep reminding ourselves is that we do really large cases, and one really good case pays for the Web site or the cost of our PR person for a year,” says Coler. “So you could nickel and dime this stuff or you can think broadly.” Trevor Delaney is managing editor ofSmall Firm Business , and is based in New York City. E-mail: [email protected] .
WEB WORKS Greg Siskind, of Memphis-based Siskind & Susser, is a power-user. His Web tools include everything from a listserv to Internet-based voice and video conferencing. His web site, Visalaw.com , is packed with information, and gets about three million hits per month. Siskind’s advice: � Find a niche.Weigh whether your site has lost its focus. “If I was starting this today,” says Siskind, “rather than trying from scratch to develop a broad immigration law Web site, I’d pick an area within my practice.” � Identify your target market.Decide whether you’re aiming to attract new business, develop business from existing clients, or if you want to take a less obvious route (such as developing a Web resource that can be used by the media or court officials). � Start out modestly.Begin with the basics: attorney biographies and a few links. You can retool later. Be sure the site reflects the image of the firm and doesn’t look like it’s been designed by a high school kid. � Try it out.To judge the site’s effectiveness, play the role of the person you’d like to visit your site. Weighing whether you should create an animated homepage for the site? Think of it in those terms and you’ll probably decide against it. –Trevor Delaney

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