July 31, 2008

Yellow Pages Gather Dust As Legal Eagles Flock to Web to Lure Clients

By Marie Price

With an increasing number of consumers seeking legal help on the Internet, it's pretty much required these days for a law firm to have a Web site, said Jim Calloway, the Oklahoma Bar Association's tech guru.

"It is incumbent on every lawyer in private practice or every law firm to have a Web site," Calloway said. "It is an absolute business necessity today, in my judgment."

Many people do their primary search and shopping on the Web, "leaving the Yellow Pages gathering dust beside their desk," he said.

Not having a Web presence sends the message that a firm is something less than up to date, said Calloway, director of management assistance for the bar association.

"Hiring a lawyer is not a trivial purchasing decision by a potential client," he said. "It is about, generally, very serious and important matters. A lot of people will verify a lawyer by checking out their Web page."

Calloway said law firms can find themselves blackballed by tech- savvy consumers.

However, he said, having the wrong content can send another type of message.

Original content that will help consumers properly check out a firm's attorneys, practice areas and expertise is the way to go, Calloway said.

Calloway recommends that lawyers select a domain name they can live with for a long time and, if possible, one that will survive the departure of particular attorneys and other changes in a firm.

He said some major firms just use attorneys' initials with a professional designation of some sort.

Site-name originality for lawyers with common names can be challenging in large urban areas, and require some creativity, he said.

Calloway suggested that adding a reference to a lawyer's practice area or other identifier can be helpful.

In smaller towns, he said, adding a city or county designation along with the word "law" can help set a firm apart from others.

One of his top tips is for attorneys to reserve a domain name themselves, rather than have a Web-design company do it for them.

"I don't want there to be any unclearness on who this domain name belongs to," Calloway said. "I would hate for my Web designer to at some point claim that they really owned it."

Some specific domain registration sites are godaddy.com, register.com and verio.com.

Sites such as whois.net can help people determine whether a particular domain name is still available.

Whether they hire a professional or a talented student to set up a site, Calloway said it must be treated as a business transaction with written agreements, deadlines and the like.

The Web proliferates with Web hosting services. Examples are: 1and1.com, Microsoft Office Live Small Business and Yahoo Small Business.

A recent study by FindLaw.com determined that adding online video to a law firm site can help attract clients.

The study found that, while searching for an attorney, consumers visited an average of 4.8 sites before choosing a lawyer, but only 1.8 sites when Web pages included video.

"The primary content on a law firm Web site should be the basic contact information, practice areas and brief biographies of all the lawyers, at a minimum," Calloway said.

Anything trendy or different will increase traffic, and videos certainly fall into that category, he said.

However, Calloway questions whether adding YouTube videos or similar links to a law site actually lures business.

"The best content for lawyers to move them up in the search engines and to convince people who are visiting their Web site and might have a need to consider hiring the law firm is original content about the practice areas of the law firm," he said.

That can range from news articles about an attorney to brief essays outlining a lawyer's take on, say, family law issues or business startup processes, he said.

Calloway said bar journal articles or other publications an attorney has written make excellent Web site content. He said having the text available on a site is better in terms of search engine optimization - increasing Web site traffic from search engines - but obtaining a publisher's permission to scan the actual bar journal pages adds credibility.

"The fact that you as a lawyer have been picked to educate fellow lawyers is very impressive Web site content," Calloway said.

Some law firm sites mention when their attorneys are chosen to give presentations at continuing legal education seminars.

Calloway stressed that Web content must be well-written and grammatically correct.

"There are people who will be greatly impacted by misspellings, poor grammar, dangling participles," he said.

Calloway said Microsoft Front Page and Web Easy Professional can help with Web site creation.

One basic thing he said some lawyers fail to do is add a map to their site with directions to their office.

"What easy content that is useful to your potential clients, that doesn't have to be updated unless you move," Calloway said.

Graphics such as the scales of justice are now considered trite and stereotypical, but attractive design elements and pictures are helpful, he said.

In a small town, Calloway said, a good picture of the law office can present potential clients with a unique concept of an attorney and his or her location, he said.

Calloway also said a legal Web site should include a disclaimer explaining that information contained on it goes not constitute legal advice, that the attorney is licensed only in certain jurisdictions, and that visiting the Web site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Generally, he recommends that law firm Web sites steer clear of the personal, such as hobbies, families or humor.

That can be done on a separate site, Calloway said.

He said sticking to the topic and coming up with original content is preferable for legal Web sites.

"Generally speaking, potential clients are in a very serious matter, and there's a great deal of opportunity for humor to backfire," Calloway said.

Originally published by Marie Price.

(c) 2008 Journal Record - Oklahoma City. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.