In an information session at the Cape Law Society annual general meeting at the end of last year, Malcolm Pearson, owner and publisher of online legal technology journal Tech4Law (tech4law.co.za), gave attorneys some guidelines for developing or improving their law firms’ websites.
This article is a summary of his presentation.
Mr Pearson said that a law firm’s website differed from other corporate websites and that attorneys should be aware of this when hiring web designers, who mostly developed websites for the corporate market.
A law firm was different because there were professional rules and law that governed attorneys’ public promotion.
He said that traditionally law firms tended to suffer from “I love me syndrome “ and, unlike corporates that promoted the benefits of products, law firms often flaunted their directors’ or partners’ biographies and boasted about their qualifications. He said that most law firms’ websites focused on themselves, while corporate websites tended to focus on their customers. It was time, he said, for attorneys to change their focus to the customer.
He suggested that attorneys do this by looking at their firms from the outside in and see what is in it for clients and other site visitors. ‘Ask clients what they want on your website; ask clients how they found your firm. Don’t ask your web developer what should go onto your site, but rather ask friends and family what sites they think are good. They will be honest,’ he said, adding: ‘Be your client. Clients want to know what they will get, not how big your department is or your biographies. ’
Mr Pearson then gave the following tips.
Find like-minded firms around the country and link them to your website as affiliated firms. This is especially a good idea if your firm does not cover certain areas of law. These links will widen the net of your firm’s exposure as it will be picked up on internet searches and will increase the website’s Google ranking (which is how many people come to the site from other sites, and also takes into account the relevance and quality of those links, which in turn impacts on your website’s relevance and importance on Google).
Have ‘the person’ and ‘the professional’, with biographies containing information on designation, tertiary education institution/s attended and qualifications. List experience, but leave this out if it is minimal. Also ensure full contact details are included.
Spend money on a professional photographer to take pictures of the firm’s attorneys and other staff. Ensure that all stick to the same dress code. Include family pictures as well, if possible.
Include photographs and a short overview of staff on the website, as some staff can influence a customer’s choice in law firm. For example, many clients have relationships with conveyancing paralegals.
Areas of practice
Each department should have its own section on the firm’s website, which includes the size of the department and a list of clients, together with a short paragraph from them on why they do business with you, if possible. Provide a history of the firm and its departments as this establishes trust.
Make sure you have a ‘contact us’ section that includes the contact details for the general office, for individual attorneys and staff, and that includes electronic communication details. If the firm or its attorneys have Facebook, Twitter or Skype accounts, include these details. Place a map to the office with directions under this section too. All of this will make it easy for clients and potential clients to contact the firm.
Legal conditions are expected of a law firm and people may judge the firm on their absence or presence on a firm’s website, and on how easy they are to read. Ideally, they should be contained in the footer.
Links to blogs
Consider establishing a blog that is external to the website. This will offer protection to the firm’s website if the blogs hacked and vice versa, and it will help increase Google rankings. In addition, comments can be open and people can interact with the firm’s attorneys.
Promote your blog and link it to any Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Photographs and graphics
Use pictures on your website, but do not use ones that are bought as you do not want the same pictures to be available on other websites.
Have business-related pictures, for example house with a ‘for sale’ sign for conveyancing, an accident scene for motor vehicle or personal injury law, or a court room.
If you have a decent looking office building, put this on the website, as well as any heritage images of your immediate suburb.
Ensure that the photographs are of good quality and use the services of a graphic designer if necessary.
- The firm’s logo should be designed by a graphic designer.
- Use a professional company to set up your website.
- Link the firm’s supported charities.
- Use a content management system (CMS), which will allow you to update and make changes to the website.
- Offer some free advice to entice potential clients. Let them know that if they need more information they can contact the firm, but make it clear that they will be charged for further advice.
Mr Pearson said that it was bad practice to –
- design the website yourself,
- include bad graphics or non-relevant pictures,
- have a website that was too busy,
- have too many news RSS feeds from other sites, include advertisements unless they are for a linked business of the firm,
- be a part of another domain, for example www.joeblogsatt.law.co.za. Rather choose www.joeblogsatt.co.za.
How to get started on your website and Twitter account
Mr Pearson also provided the following advice to law firms that do not already have a website or a Twitter account:
- Get a registered domain if you do not have one. Ensure it is “co.za” unless you are aiming for international business.
- You can obtain a domain at www.afrihost.co.za. Go to http://www.afrihost.com/ for registration, which (at the time of going to print) costs R 97 a year. You can get e-mail to be part of the domain through Afrihost or via Google e-mail. Mr Pearson advised using an expert to do this.
- Register with Twitter to ensure that no one else registers the firm’s or any of its attorneys’ names.
- If an attorney is the face of the firm, use his name on the Twitter account. If not, use the name of the firm.
- Tweet once a day as it is a good way to be picked up on Google. One idea is to find an interesting article and link it with a short introduction in your tweet.
- Make use of the TweetDeck application, a personal desktop application that allows you to monitor what is happening on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace (www.tweetdeck.com).
- List your business on websites like Gumtree (gumtree.co.za), Junkmail (junkmail.co.za/) and attorneys.co.za (attorneys.co.za), which will lead to greater exposure.
- Find clients’ blogs and websites and post comments on their postings every once in a while. However, ensure that you have something decent to say and do not sell your services on their websites. The boldest you should do, is say ‘contact me if you need further details’.
- If you have something on your website that can add value to their comments, link to it from there.
- Test your website on different types of cell phones (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Nokia, etcetera), the iPad and other tablet devices and computer browsers (including the different versions of Internet Explorer, as well as Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari).
This article first appeared in the March 2012 edition of De Rebus, the South African Attorneys' Journal, published by the Law Society of South Africa.