If You Build It, Will They Come? (Law Firm Web Sites)
by Barbara Lewis
(County Bar Update, December 1999, Vol. 19, No. 11)


If You Build It, Will They Come?

By Barbara Lewis, MBA, Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. Lewis is a partner with Centurion Consulting Group, which develops strategic, business, marketing, growth and financial plans for law firms, as well as Web sites. She can be reached at BALewis@aol.com or (310) 471-8979. The opinions expressed are her own.

One of the most frequent questions that my partner and I receive from law firms is whether Web sites generate clients. While there is a lot of anecdotal information, there is very little empirical evidence to answer that question.

In September, Centurion Consulting Group contacted the 60 largest law firms in Los Angeles and asked them to participate in a survey about law firm Web sites.

Nearly 90 percent of the top law firms have Web sites. The major purposes for creating a Web site were 1) use as an online brochure for attracting new clients, 2) competing with other law firms, and 3) recruiting attorneys.

The cost of developing the Web sites ranged from $5,000 to $45,000. Although law firms seem to like complex graphics, other surveys indicate that fast-loading sites with simple graphics are what viewers prefer.

An attractive site that suits your purpose can be developed for $5,000 or less. Anecdotally, we have found that many law firms' sites have been built inexpensively by partners' teenage sons or nephews who are hi-tech whizzes --Unfortunately, some of these sites have no marketing value since the youngsters aren't savvy in marketing techniques.

According to our survey, about half of the Web sites are maintained in-house, with a quarter maintained by an internal/external combination. The other 25 percent maintain their Web sites solely by an outside source. Since the Web site is a marketing tool, the marketing person should be responsible for keeping the Web site up-to-date and adding new articles, upcoming seminars, new attorneys' bios, etc. With programs such as Microsoft's FrontPage, which is used for building Web sites, it's very easy to train a secretary or clerk to make necessary changes.

Half of the respondents rated the success of the Web site as above average, while the other half rated their Web sites as average. Almost 40 percent of respondents answered "yes" to the question of whether their Web sites brought them any new clients. Another 40 percent answered "no", while 20 percent were unsure. Of those who obtained clients from their Web site, the top client matters were corporate law and litigation, followed by contract work, copyright disputes, e-commerce work, entertainment and intellectual property.

The fact that 20 percent of respondents didn't know if their Web site had generated clients emphasizes that law firms need to track how clients are brought into the firm. This data is important for allocating marketing resources in the future.

A file intake or opening memo should gather important data about the new client including who referred the client and the type of referral, such as a CPA or an event (such as a speech or an article). A database that can sort this information will help identify the total number of clients generated by various sources and indicate what's working and what's not in the marketing arena. If a growing number of clients are generated from your Web site, then it pays to allocate resources to updating the site and responding to e-mail queries, for example.

Our own Web site (www.CenturionConsulting. com) has generated queries from around the world, the result of a CIO magazine article reprinted in Europe that listed our Web site. And we are currently discussing our services with a law firm that found us through the Internet.

It appears that Web sites do, indeed, generate clients. And they are not just individual clients; they are large corporate clients in some cases. If you don't have a Web site, plan to develop one as your online brochure for prospective clients and attorney recruitment -- Research indicates that if you build it, they will come.

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