First impressions count. These days, one of the first impressions you make is with your website.
Perhaps you’re a brand-new (broke?) law grad, starting your own practice, and you just need a very basic website.
Consider Google sites. It’s mostly geared toward personal use, such as websites for weddings or soccer teams. But there are templates for business use, too. Like all things Google, there’s plenty of help for when you cannot figure something out. In about an hour and a half, I made drafts of pages for my very own website.
Other options – probably better for legal practitioners – are Justia.Net’s free search-engine-optimized website builder, and free websites from LawFirm911, offering templates for law firm websites.
While Google sites, Justia.Net’s site builder and Law Firm911 are all free, a big drawback is you don’t get your own domain name – my Web address, for example, is https://sites.google.com/site/janepribek, not www.janepribek.com. As a practitioner looking for clients, I’d think you’d want to be able to tell prospects a memorable Web address with your own domain name.
Moreover, are these sites easy to find on the Web? While Justia says the free version is tweaked for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I have to wonder how many resources they put into something they give away.
Those issues are what frequently bring lawyers to John Lamberto of Milwaukee, a Thomson Reuters/Findlaw representative who specializes in law-firm websites.
Often, he says, the lawyer’s “partner’s daughter’s boyfriend,” or the like, has been entrusted with creating the website that no one can find on the Web.
Now don’t get him wrong: Lamberto readily agrees that if you have nothing to invest in a website, the free versions are certainly better than nothing, in most cases – they at least get the crawlers from Google and other search engines into your page.
But, if the site really looks like amateur hour, it’s almost worse than no Web presence, Lamberto says. Like when the content reads like a legal brief. Or, there’s just too much. There are links to articles to that no one will ever read. The layout is unattractive. And there are no taglines, and no thought’s been put into the lawyer’s brand.
“You need a site that’s engaging, with graphics that speak to the potential audience an attorney is seeking,” he says.
An effective website tells prospects that you do the kind of law they need, you’re located where you’re needed, and you’re good at what you do, either via reports of cases you’ve handled or testimonials. Lamberto says a good website keeps it simple. It’s memorable. It’s inviting to look at. And, it’s fun to read.
Unfortunately, I can’t give price quotes. After talking to Lamberto, as well as Stacy Stern, president of Justia, and Philip Franckel, owner of LawFirm911, it’s my understanding that the cost of a website can vary widely, depending on your practice area, firm size and how content-rich you want the site to be, among other factors.
A “typical” small-firm website concentrating in family law might spend $10,000 annually for design and maintenance by Findlaw, guesstimates Lamberto.
A website isn’t a one-time expense, he explains, because updating it and keeping it fresh is what attracts visitors, both new and old. Moreover, you’re likely going to want analysis of who’s going to the site, and how many are turning into clients.
So, if that family-law site brings in just four divorces where the fees average $2,500, that covers the site for a year. Hopefully, within that time, the firm has signed on many more cases. If it hasn’t, it’s probably not due to the website. By the way, some of the firms Lamberto works with expect, and receive, 10 times the business compared to the initial investment. It depends in large part on your practice area.
As for Justia, based in Mountain View, Calif., Stern (a former co-owner of Findlaw, incidentally, before selling it to Thomson), says its customized “Website Solutions” typically cost around $3,000 for the entry level for a year. But even at that price point, she says they emphasize customer service, and the second year is always less expensive.
As for LawFirm911, its premium designs cost $499 for a one-time set-up fee, then $299 per month, which includes your own domain and SEO. Or, it’s free if you order a “vanity phone number,” such as 800-I-CAN-WIN.
LawFirm911 is an ancillary business for Franckel, of Roslyn, N.Y., who also practices personal injury law. With its premium package, you’ll be providing the content for the pages – whereas with Findlaw and Justia, you can get assistance with that – for a price. Again, it depends on how much help you’ll need, how often you’ll be making updates, etc. Franckel notes that he’s planning on adding content, as well as videos for websites, in the coming months.
Weighing the options
This is a hunch only, but I suspect Findlaw’s going to be the most expensive. But I also suspect that with Findlaw, you’ll get the most service, and it’s local. Lamberto says if you Google a practice area and “Milwaukee,” with those two keywords, you’re likely to find multiple sites he designed as results on pages one and two. Check them out; talk to their owners.
As for Justia, it’s a smaller shop. But sometimes, David tries harder than Goliath, and creating Findlaw before it was sold to Thomson Reuters gives them some credibility in my mind. Justia has designed quite a few websites, a few in Wisconsin, too – go to their “Website Portfolio” to check them out.
As for LawFirm911, my best guess is, if you practice personal injury or criminal law, Franckel knows a lot about those areas and would be very helpful. His service might be the least expensive, but it also might require more work from you.
Whichever route you choose, Stern cautions against using a company that doesn’t know anything about the legal profession, and get references.
In addition, she says with any company, don’t expect instant high page rankings.
“There are search algorithms that prevent new sites from showing up right away,” says Stern. “They can get indexed, but they might not show up high right away.”
She adds, “It’s important to find out what will happen if you ever want to leave. Can you get a copy of your site, or are you held hostage and then you have to start over, or do you have to pay to get a copy of your site? We give a copy of the site for free if someone wants to leave.”
Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and former editor of Wisconsin Law Journal. Since moving to Nashville, she has been our editor-at-large. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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