3 Things Lawyers And Law Firms Should Do Online

At a dinner conversation on a trip wholly unrelated to legal marketing or the Internet, the wife of a BigLaw partner whose son was also a BigLaw partner prompted me to identify three things law firms and lawyers should do on the Internet.

I had been talking in generalities about digital marketing and she wanted specifics. It was a great question and, wanting to appear brilliant, I stumbled out a response. My answer was brief and, in reflection, on target. But I felt the good question deserved a response more thorough than the quick witted one I shouted over the mealtime din. This is what I answered – the longer version:

One: Claim and Manage Profiles

This seemingly innocent task seems to be fraught with fear, misunderstanding and ignorance. In fact it is strategic, protective and opportunistic. Few firms or lawyers do this effectively. The participation tasks are assigned to administrative people and the “marketing department.” It is far more than populating one’s LinkedIn profile with the same undifferentiated bio that appears on the website. Content from profiles are increasingly becoming re-purposed as the web grows increasingly social and apps and sites become interconnected.

Two: Create Content

Successful professional service providers must create content to be effective marketers. Lawyers perceive marketing as sales and sales as dirty. Nothing replaces the business development value of one personally networking in places where clients reside such as causes, country clubs, the symphony and skyboxes. But publishing authoritative content can often be the deal breaker for selecting one lawyer or firm over another. My data is anecdotal but it has grown steadily over the entire time I’ve been serving this industry. An entire industry has grown up around content marketing and there is a good reason for that. It works.

Lawyers, of course, are busily yolked into billable hour requirements. Many are reluctant to share the knowledge they believe they should sell. Publishing in a regulated industry is a challenge. And the layers of review and approval can make it difficult if not impossible to produce timely content. I get it. That’s why cutting through all these obstacles and consistently producing informative non-promotional content makes the successful ones stand out.

Three: Publish Effective Websites

Websites provide a powerful opportunity to really make or blow the firm’s brand. Firms spend 100 of thousands of dollars on their websites. Yet in an annually conducted study of the AmLaw 100 “10 Foundational Website Best Practices”, 75% of firms were rated fair or poor. It is astonishing that they can’t get it right.

Why is this? First, the lawyers get in the way of the marketers. They believe themselves to be experts on design. Their lawyer-staffed web committees can only agree on the color blue. They want to be the same as [fill in the blank] law firm. Moreover, they have a strong tendency to listen to marketers who are also lawyers**. Better they should be talking to marketers whose clients resemble the law firm client and not themselves. Unless all they want to hear is an echo, which seems to be the case.

Did I get this right? If not, what three things top your list?

** There are some excellent marketers who are also lawyers. But being a lawyer is not a prerequisite for offering good legal marketing advice.

The Power of Process

My team had developed a website in record time to meet a client’s immovable deadline. In fact, the site was ready for client final review 10 days early. We were sitting pretty. Or so we thought.

An Arranged Marriage

As we made plans to host the client’s new WordPress website at a reliable and modestly priced internet service provider (ISP), the client introduced a new contact to our team. He was a part-time technology consultant who managed the small firm’s email, internal network and other miscellaneous duties including the start-up website that our team had been engaged to replace.

Who’s on First?

Our new IT partner had his own ideas about where to host. Although we expressed disappointment at this well-known non-performing ISP, we could live with it. The website was not mission-critical and if there were hosting issues down the line, the site could always be moved later or the client would simply accept the ISP’s misbehavior. It was not a show stopper. But then the project really went south.

Now Escape with Both Hands Tied

Because the IT consultant also managed other infrastructure at this hosting site, we were to be given limited access to the ISP. Moreover, our new IT friend indicated his intent to set up the WordPress environment and was preparing to receive our website files and database although we had not sought this “assistance.”

The arrival of this complicating news was followed by an exchange of many emails and several phone calls. Directions from the IT consultant came with incorrect credentials, inaccurate ftp upload directions and somewhat of a tug of war over controlling the quality of the launch. Our process was slipping away and our time was escalating.

The Client is Not Always Right (But they’re always the client)

In the end, the client backed its IT consultant. Instead of $84 for a full year of hosting from our preferred ISP and a smooth and efficient launch process, we engaged in 4 hours of unbillable time wrangling over the IT consultant’s desired process.   Too bad for us. Suck it up. But more importantly and regrettably, the client lost as well. A process we had followed with great success succumbed to an impromptu series of misdirection and errors.

So Now Who’s In Charge?

Most important, the site is not up and it remains an open question as to whether it will be successfully published by the mutually agreed launch date. Failure to follow a proven process has led to other casualties as well. And the open question remains if or when something is not working correctly who is responsible?

Once the site is launched our process would have continued to provide added value including:

  1. weekly automated back up of the site for 1 year
  2. regular (at least quarterly) security and patch updates to WordPress for 1 year
  3. configuration of caching, webmaster tools
  4. 30 day post-launch warranty on the site function
  5. staff training on use of the WordPress interface

Due to limited site access most of this added value, with the exception of staff training, may not be able to be executed. Of course, we’ll do whatever we can with the permissions we have.

Takeaway: Update Our Process

This website launch case story is exclusively about process. It is not about being “right” or being in control. It is about following steps that have been put in place based on prior errors and missteps that we, and everyone, makes on their way toward improving and perfecting a process.

Our one takeaway? Shame on us. Close the hosting arrangement at the very top of the project and avoid surprises. Add that to our process.

Have you had a process disrupted? What have been the implications for you? Share your story.