Lawyer marketing can be especially challenging because lawyers (at least the ones I’ve worked with) genuinely care about their clients. They want to show how they can help yet still come across as totally professional and ethical.
Additionally, lawyers (like many other service professionals) aren’t always at home in the world of online marketing. So they feel unsure about what to expect.
Let’s face it: unless you’ve been laboring in the online marketing trenches for a few years, you most likely aren’t clear on what’s realistic for turnaround time, costs and expectations. For example, I’ve written website copy for lawyers who ended up waiting 6 months for a design or tech implementation that should have been a six-week project.
Here are the 7 questions most lawyers ask about building a website that’s cost-effective, yet also delivers a strong message and attracts the clients you’d most like to work with. If you’re not a lawyer, you may share some of the same questions.
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(1) “Most of our clients come from referrals. Do we even need a website?”
I’ve run across several lawyers – as well as articles about lawyer marketing – that raise this question. They argue that the CEO of a big company won’t be going through your website. They argue that spending thousands on a website could be better applied elsewhere.
The truth is, prospects most likely will look at your website before they get serious about talking to you. The big-company CEO might delegate this chore, or her staff might take the initiative to check your website out on their own.
When you’re dealing with small to mid-size companies, your website becomes more important. Your prospects will go to your site and spend some time there. When you work with clients as individuals and families, your website will be critical in helping prospective clients make their decision.
Often they’re not just choosing between you and another firm: they’re deciding whether to hire a lawyer at all. They’ve heard the horror stories and they’re scared.
After all, most “ordinary” people don’t deal with lawyers on a regular basis, so your site has to educate them on what to expect (and reassure them they’re not walking into a fiery furnace). Your website gives you the opportunity show that you’re a caring advocate who fights for your clients — and you’re also approachable and non-judgmental. You have space to demonstrate that you’re not the kind of lawyer who pockets a retainer and disappears for three months, leaving your clients stranded.
And your website doesn’t have to be an extravaganza that breaks the bank. I’m horrified when I hear some numbers people throw around. These days, WordPress themes allow you to create professional looking sites with assistance from affordable techies and designers.
(2) “I keep hearing I need a show-stopping, eye-popping, jaw-dropping website. So shouldn’t we start with the designer?”
Spending all your energy and resources on a brilliant design is like spending your trial preparation time shopping for an Armani suit — skipping the late nights, reams of notes, and hours of mind-numbing research. It works on television.
Lawyers frequently get caught up in discussions of colors, photos and elaborate designs that actually detract from their messages. I think it’s because they’re tired of looking at words all day. Choosing colors is fun!
In her book, The Brand Mapping Strategy, branding expert Karen Tiber Leland says, “Your brand is what drives the website design – not the other way around …Business people often rely (too heavily, in my opinion) on a design change to move their brand to the next level.”
When I work with clients, we look at your pitch statement, your brand proposition (what sets you apart), brand tone, and brand energy. We also look at your signature story – the “why” behind your business. And we look at your core competencies and strengths. We develop a message that communicates your value and show why you’re different from the competition. Then (and only then) we get around to design elements that communicate your brand more subtly and memorably.
(3) “Should I be on social media? It seems risky.” There’s no need to make Facebook posts about your cat or your kids. But a blog can be a valuable marketing tool for a legal practice. Your blog helps you develop credibility and awareness. You can communicate your personal style so clients know what to expect on their first office visit. You can even showcase your accomplishments without appearing to brag.
And for some lawyers, Facebook and Twitter will build connections that can’t be made anywhere else. More and more lawyers have begun incorporating social media – carefully and responsibly – into their marketing mix.
(4) “How can I get past these technical terms and figure out what I’m really getting when I hire a developer?”
When lawyers evaluate contracts, they understand enforceable promises. When they read a web developer’s contract, they don’t always recognize what’s actually being offered and what’s important.
Unless you live online, you have no reason to know that QR codes are free, what to pay for ordinary hosting, or what your designer will do when she promises to “customize” your website theme.
Yet each of these simple statements can lead to extraordinary and unnecessary charges. For instance, your developer might say, “Responsive design means your website looks good on smartphones, tablets and other devices besides a desktop. So we’ll charge you $500 extra to make your design responsive.”
That’s a good thing, right? Of course. But these days, many themes come with responsiveness built in at no extra charge. Unless you insist on a custom design, or you make major modifications to at theme, you shouldn’t be charged extra. Lawyers with small private practices can almost always work with simple themes.
The words “customize your site” can vary from one designer to another. Some will do a true overhaul, while some just tweak a theme with techniques that a low-end assistant or tech support person could use, for a fraction of the price.
(5) “Shouldn’t we get a website like the biggest and most prestigious firm in town? And start by hiring some fancy-pants design team that specializes in lawyers?”
If you’re a small firm, your lawyer marketing calls for a website that highlights your style and your specialty. People choose your firm because you offer something the big boys don’t, such as more affordable pricing and more personal attention. Some big design firms are extremely reputable, creating masterful designs and delivering on time.
Alas, many are not. I’ve met too many lawyers who waited six months to get a design, or paid for more design than they needed, or got caught up in a contract that sounded like an amazing value (“just $50 a month for hosting and a free site”) but actually traps you into a mediocre, overpriced site that doesn’t attract clients.
Don’t be afraid to get second opinions after you’ve been given a quote for thousands of dollars. A one-hour consultation with me (or another copywriter) typically will be a fraction of the purchase price you’re quoted and can save you thousands of dollars.
(6) “How can I be sure my website won’t get me in trouble with the regulators?” Your copywriter should ask you to investigate what must be on your website and what will not be allowed on your website in your jurisdiction and your practice areas. Then you can advise your web development resources what kinds of claims you can make and what you can promise realistically.
Copywriters often work virtually so they deal with many jurisdictions. Before beginning the project, brief your copywriter on rules, limitations, regulations and guidelines. Once you’ve established the boundaries, your copywriter will help you come up with marketing content that conforms to requirements.
For instance, an immigration lawyer can’t guarantee to get green cards for every client who wants to move to the United States. But she can guarantee a window of response time, a certain amount of attention, and a commitment to timely action; perhaps she can promise she won’t miss deadlines that will cause a client to lose a case.
(7) “Should I sign with those nice people who invited me to a special luncheon event?”
When I ask, “How come you chose X company for your web development?” often the response is, “Well, they called and invited us to lunch.” Usually it’s the beginning of a story with an unhappy ending.
Busy, competent web development professionals don’t have time to enjoy long lunches with prospects. In fact, most of us will ask you for information before we initiate a phone call. I am always happy to offer a webinar or speak to a live group. But I don’t buy them lunch.
Most of the time, I don’t even meet my clients face to face. We talk on the phone very briefly (and occasionally not at all). Who’s got time to share small talk? A firm that has a sales staff might seem pretty impressive…till you realize that they have to bake those costs into the price you pay. Some of those firms will be honest and reasonable.
More often, lunch doesn’t end with dessert. I hear things like, “They told me I needed Google Adwords, a $1500 logo and even a QR code.” I’ve had to track down domain names and passwords for clients when their developers disappeared. It’s not unusual for web development companies to pile up the charges.
A dog walker in my neighborhood was encouraged to buy an expensive logo and some online marketing software. She could barely turn on the computer. QR codes are free – yet developers occasionally try to charge up to $500 for them.
The Role of Websites In Lawyer Marketing
Lawyers know that clients often make mistakes because they just don’t understand what’s required. For instance, a client might have all sorts of advanced degrees but misunderstand an important rule in filling out an immigration form.
A client making a will might inadvertently leave her heirs stranded because she omits a clause an estate attorney would add instinctively.
Similarly, lawyers rarely understand requirements for websites. Unless you’re an internet marketing attorney, there’s no reason for you to have a sense of what you need, let alone what you should be paying.
Just as you’re passionate about helping your clients get what they deserve, I don’t like to see busy professionals end up with websites that cost a bundle and do nothing for their marketing. I take on a limited number of clients, keep my overhead low, and have a little black book of insider resources. It’s taken me a long time to put my system together and I guard it with care. Get a pdf download of this article here.
If you’re considering a website makeover, or you’re ready for a new website, check out my services on copywriting for lawyers here.