For a young attorney working to develop a client base and connect with new clients, the firm’s website can be a make-or-break resource. Often, even when a client is coming in as a referral, the potential client will likely take five minutes to view the firm’s site, and frequently, the look of, and information provided by, the website provides the first impression of the firm to that client. While the website is a valuable tool, too often older, more established attorneys who often rely only on word-of-mouth referrals fail to make website development and maintenance a priority. This presents a problem for younger attorneys or attorneys at smaller firms. Here is my first-hand account of how I approached my partners and managed to turn a basic website into something that any young attorney concerned with marketing can point to with pride. Be warned—the process took me seven very long years and two website overhauls.
When I joined my firm in 2008, the first iPhone had been released, yet my firm’s website consisted of a wall of black text on a white background. The text was nothing more than the CVs of the three attorneys who worked for the firm. The CVs were presented as a list. No hyperlinks, no graphics, no additional pages of content or anything else that could be seen as useful to a prospective client. In fact, when looking up information about my firm for my interview, I laughed out loud when I came across the website because it seemed ridiculous even back then. Needless to say, the website did not provide a great first impression to potential clients.
After joining the firm, I came to learn that the website was minimalistic because the partners could not see the potential of it, and certainly could not justify the expense of sprucing it up. I immediately went to work. I suggested at least a rudimentary update to include pictures and basic information to let potential clients know who we were and what we did. It was a long process and the partners were infinitely skeptical. I needed to convince them that even though my firm does not actively market, a website would be a valuable tool to help us land clients. My main points of discussion (among others) were:
- The yellow pages are obsolete; a website and the internet are the new phone book (remember, this was a long time ago and the firm had always figured that paying for a yellow pages advertisement was sufficient).
- The younger generation religiously uses the internet for research (thank you Wikipedia!) and if social media has taught us nothing else, we know to look someone up before a meeting.
- A website needs to grab a viewer’s attention—something particularly important in today’s competitive legal environment. If a professional gives a prospective client two or three referral names, it is up to us to make the client pick our firm. Regardless of how good an attorney is at his or her job, they will never be able to meet with that client if the firm’s webpage does not appeal to the client as much as those of other firms.
The third bullet point was the key for me. It spoke to how the new webpage could directly benefit the firm and the partners. The development of prospective clients would come naturally after the update. Eventually, after about a year of constant prodding, the partners decided it was time to update the webpage. In late summer of 2009, my firm joined the digital age and had a webpage that contained pictures, dedicated attorney pages, practice area blurbs, a news page, and some useful links. The website also contained a page that allowed individuals to contact us directly from the website—this allowed the partners to see a direct link between the website upgrade and new clients.
Within about 24 hours of our website going live, we received our first unsolicited email from the website asking if we could help with a problem. Within three months, enough good business had come in through the website that it had essentially paid for itself.
Fast forward five years: our firm is doing better than ever; we have a great team of attorneys and support staff; and we have an up-to-date, informational, aesthetically pleasing website. There was, however, one additional item to be addressed: visibility of our website. One day, I Googled our firm to see how hard it was to find us. I tried a couple of generic terms, and lo and behold, my firm did not appear until the ninth page of results! Beyond that, no amount of keyword juggling (beyond actually typing in the firm name or an attorney name) could move our firm onto page one. No potential client was going to go through nine pages of search results to select an attorney when perfectly good attorneys were on pages 1-8. I knew we needed to address the issue of visibility. How does one convince his firm that the pictures are not shiny enough, the text too boring, and that things like search engine optimization (SEO) and mobile compatibility actually matter? Again, the key was to relate the necessary changes to the partners on terms they could understand and appreciate.
First, given that they had seen that the website could generate income, it was easy to discuss the lost income that we could capture if we moved up to even the second or, heaven forbid, the third page of Google. Second, since 2009 my partners had joined the 21st century and had each procured an iPhone, and were accustomed to looking at the web on their phones. One quick look at the website proved to them that something needed to be done. And finally, I appealed to them on a personal level. Now that they had seen the power of the Internet to my generation, they recognized that to be successful for the next 20-30 years I needed to develop my client base now, and appeal to their need for up-to-date and appealing technology. Finally, as the bottom line is money, the more clients I generate, the more money I collect, and that is better for everyone in the firm. In the end, the partners agreed and our new website (complete with mobile optimization and on-page SEO), should be live by October 1, 2015. By November, if you Google my firm, we hope you’ll be able to find us on page one of the search results.
When approaching your partners about updating a website, keep in mind that building a website is a costly and time-consuming process. Just the addition of on-page SEO and mobile optimization added a few thousand dollars to the cost of our website. To convince your firm to take on such a job, you must try to relate the process to something your partners understand. In the end, the process will be beneficial to everyone in the firm but it is up to you to make your partners see that. It took me seven years to get my firm to invest significant time and money into a state-of-the-art website that I can be proud of, and I know you can be successful too.
About the Author
Mackenzie Hogan is an attorney with Harris & Bowker LLP, a business and estate planning law firm in Portland, OR. He can be reached at 503.293.0073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.