Law firms with offices in multiple countries or that serve foreign language-speaking clients face a unique challenge, and that is establishing a strong relationship with their multi-national client base.

One impactful way to reach across this vast barrier is to strategically localize your firm’s webpage. Making a website available to a multilingual audience increases a firm’s exposure and profit potential while solidifying relationships with foreign clients. When out-of-country prospects see that you are putting forth the effort to connect with them through their own language, they will generally be more willing to engage with you. Despite these benefits, few law firms have actually begun to localize their website for select audiences, likely owing to lack of information, perceived difficulty and assumed high cost.

Partners and law firm office managers may be surprised to learn that website localization can be both affordable and relatively simple to implement, given the right approach.

The need for law firm website localization is apparent: it creates an instant advantage for any firms looking to expand into new territory on a global scale. In the simplest terms, broadening your reach to include additional countries means more exposure for your firm—resulting in more potential clients and greater profitability. By language, the largest growth rates of Internet users are non-English; Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Arabic are all among the top 10 list.

Website localization can also reassure your existing out-of-country clients that you understand them. As more firms begin to take on clients from other countries and as populations closer to home become increasingly diverse and multilingual, the greater the need becomes to bridge the culture gap. Firms may have bilingual staff on-site, but that does not serve foreign prospects if the website content is not in their language. A law firm’s website often serves today as the main gateway and information hub for prospective clients. It is one of the most vital drivers in deciding whether to seek out the practice’s services. If content is not in a web visitor’s native language, there is little chance that they will choose to engage with you.

Conversely, when a speaker of a foreign language comes upon a firm’s website and is able to read the content in his or her native language, this simple event accomplishes a significant feat. The localized website instills confidence and goodwill within the online visitor. He or she is also much more likely to choose to work with a firm whose website is tailored to his or her native language and culture — precisely because the website lends a sense of familiarity and home.

The law firm Rimon P.C. is a good example of a full-service firm with an international presence whose managing partners chose to implement website localization to very positive effect. A 30-lawyer practice focusing on corporate, intellectual property, finance and compliance matters, its office locations include San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York and Tel Aviv. Clients range from startups to global 100 corporations. By creating a Hebrew-language webpage aimed at clients in Israel to support the Tel Aviv office, co-managing partner Yaacov Silberman affirms that the benefits were apparent from the start. "It has helped demonstrate the firm’s local connections and cultural sensitivities," Silberman says.

In addition to serving clienfts of the Tel Aviv office, there are also a significant number of Israeli immigrants in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas that appreciate being able to read the firm’s website in their native language.

Deciding to launch a localized webpage came fairly easily to the managing partners, owing to their backgrounds in the technology field. Prior to law school, they worked at Napster, Check Point Software and co-founded EZ Web Mall and the Freedom Internet. They also understand the mentality and motivating factors of foreign clients, which Silberman ties back to the central benefits of localizing your website for foreign visitors.

"Displaying content in your target customers’ native language is an instant advantage," he said. "It communicates to the client that they are a major focus of the firm, and that we are likely to understand their particular needs. It also helps build a personal connection. When traveling in another country, finding a person who speaks your language is like finding a piece of home."

The managing partners’ efforts to connect with the Hebrew-speaking audiences have not gone unnoticed by their target audiences. In fact, they have found that it often sparks conversation and has led to more engagement with clients and prospects.

While the partners at Rimon, P.C. opted to have their contacts translate their website copy, a solution that worked for their needs, consider that it may make sense to outsource website localization to a provider of language services. Website localization is far more complex than just translating web copy; another reason is that a localization company has ready access to professional linguists with legal expertise in the countries you want to target. Before selecting an approach, make sure you understand all of the variables to help you make an informed decision.

Your first step should be to identify your target audiences, and therefore determine which languages and cultures you need to cater your webpage content to. Once you know which audiences you want to reach, translating your website copy is a good place to start. After all, most foreign prospects visiting an out-of-country website will first look for content in their own language; of secondary importance is how culturally attuned it is.

One word of caution is to avoid the temptation to utilize free online instant translation tools to translate your firm’s copy. This seemingly inexpensive method actually comes with hidden costs in the area of quality. Machine translation is particularly ill-suited to the strictly controlled language of legal content, not to mention the inability of a free online translation tool to accurately capture and reproduce the tone or brand voice of your website copy. Another major concern is that instant online translation tools often store the information that is fed into them so as to improve the online tool’s translation engine’s accuracy — which may not be acceptable to firm stakeholders.

A step beyond language translation is the extent to which the firm’s website reflects your audience’s cultural preferences, which could include the website’s color scheme, images and even the type of content you choose to include, such as video or blog posts. Each culture has its own preferences regarding such elements, and taking a culture-tailored approach with your website will go a long way toward engaging successfully with your target audiences.

Ease of navigation also enters the picture when discussing website localization. One common practice is to feature a drop-down menu on the firm’s website to show which languages are available. Others may dedicate a webpage to showing all available language and country choices—known as a gateway—that allows foreign web visitors to easily and quickly choose their language.

As more law firms conduct business beyond their home borders, and as the all-encompassing phenomenon of globalization continues its steady progression, we will continue to see more law firms experiment with localizing their web content. Whether it is done to appeal to a firm’s existing foreign clients or expand into a new market overseas, the goal will revolve around establishing and expanding the attorney-client relationship.

Depending on the extent of the localization initiative you are considering, keep in mind that working with a language service provider may be in your best interests. Localization professionals can bring to the table cost-saving technologies, scalable solutions and quality-ensuring measures that can benefit you today and in the long term. Globally minded law firms that get started with website localization will cement their place as a pace-setter of this growing trend•