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Websites are no longer a luxury — they’re a necessity

Who to call, what to include and how much to pay

globeStrange as it may seem in these days of Facebook, Twitter and endless online interactions, some firms still do not have a web presence.

But if you don’t have a website, you are invisible to untold potential clients and potential referrals. It’s also likely people aren’t taking you seriously or they worry about your firm’s stability, said Brendan Chard, owner of Ann Arbor website consulting company The Modern Firm LLC.

“I’ve run into people who don’t have them,” he said. “They are either brand new or maybe pretty well-established and have had success by word-of-mouth and reputation and think of a website as purely a marketing tool.”

But with Google just a click away, potential clients see a firm’s online presence as a way to establish credibility.

“You have to think of it for validation,” Chard said. “‘People know I’m in business and know what I’m doing.’ It’s hard to take anyone seriously if they don’t have a site.”

A referral only will get you so far, cautioned Jeffery Lantz, author of “The Essential Attorney Handbook for Internet Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, and Website Development Management.” Armed with a referral, potential clients now tend to go online to check out a lawyer’s credentials and background.

“If they can’t find you, that’s a problem,” Lantz said. “They won’t take time to call and let you know you didn’t have a website. They just won’t bother to call you at all.”

Know your goals

“Before you create a website for your practice or firm, be strategic and ask yourself, ‘What’s my goal with my website? Know the purpose you want it to serve,” Elizabeth Joliffe, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based legal coach, said.

“Be strategic, think about the nature of your practice, how you originate business and how a website could help you.”

Know that “lawyer websites aren’t necessarily the best way to get good work … for many kinds of practice areas,” she said.

Rather, an attorney needs to consider whether a simple validation site is needed, where potential clients and referral sources can look at your photo, review your credentials, read about your practice areas and confirm that you are not fly-by-night.

“If your target market isn’t the market that is Googling for and/or price shopping lawyers, don’t spend thousands of dollars on search engine optimization,” Joliffe said. “Instead, consider spending your money on professional photography, customized images and branding on your website.”

Most lawyers take their resumes and a description of their practice areas and accolades and awards, often from 20 years ago, and say, “‘Go build us a site that looks nice,’” Lantz said.

But instead they should focus on the user.

“What potential clients want to see is, ‘What can you do for me and what do you charge?’” Lantz said. “We want to put that information, or as much as we can of it, first and foremost. Be client-centered, rather than attorney accolades, awards won and those kinds of things.

Things to consider, Joliffe said, include a FAQ page, a Google Maps plug-in to show where your office is located, lawyer biographies and a mobile-friendly version of the site.

Establishing a website

When establishing a look and feel for your website, Chard said, don’t be afraid to copy other’s style.

“What I tell people is to look for competing attorneys in their market or even in a different state and see what sites do they like …” he said. “And maybe sit down with someone who’s not a lawyer and get their input about what they like and don’t like.”

When you find another firm’s site you like, contact the Web designer — almost always listed on the bottom of the site — to find out about building a website.

Regardless of whether you do it yourself or hire someone, Lantz said, use open-source Web construction. He suggested WordPress, which, he said, now powers 19 percent of all websites on the Internet.

If a Web design company builds a site with proprietary programming, chances are that if you decide to leave that company, a whole new site will have to be built. But with an open source resource such as WordPress, he said, a transition can be as easy as replacing the Web host and continuing on.

To that end, Lantz, Joliffe and Chard all agreed that buying your own domain name is critical, and it’s cheap — only about $10 to $30 a year, Lantz said.

Again, if a Web designer registers the name and just lets you use it as part of their service, transferability could become an issue if you want to make a change, they said.

When adding photos to a site, spend the extra dollars and use professional photos, Joliffe said. Nothing says amateur like a fuzzy photo of you in your cardigan.

When to call in a pro

Joliffe and Chard disagreed about whether a lawyer or firm should to try to build a site themselves.

Joliffe said for a solo or small firm, in many cases a simple but effective site can be built without professional help using WordPress.

Chard, who builds sites and consults in website design, suggested that you’ll get a more professional-looking site with professional help. If you spend in the $1,000-$3,000 range, he said, you will find someone with the technical competence to build a good site, but generally not get a lot of insight about marketing or much specialized knowledge about the legal profession.

In the $4,000-$10,000 range, Chard said, “Then you’re working with a company understanding it all: understanding marketing, layout, what the practice of law is all about.

The price can go up from there, Chard said, depending on the number of pages built into the site.

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