Law Firm Website Redesign: Move Your Standalone Blog to Your Website

Judging from lunch and happy hour conversations at the LMA 2012 annual conference, we’re in for a wave of law firm website refreshes and redesigns. There was a lot of discussion about incorporating features to increase website traffic and visitor engagement, but no one was talking about the single most effective way to do that: moving their standalone blog to their website.

Maintaining a blog separately from your website just doesn’t make business or practical sense.

  • Websites that incorporate a blog component typically perform better and require less time and expense than maintaining two or more content management systems.
  • Your blog allows you to easily publish new content your site on a regular basis, it is built to be search engine friendly, and it is simply easier (and cheaper) to manage one site instead of two!buy
  • It is much easier and less confusing for your prospects and leads to find and engage with you when you are directing them to just one site.
  • You typically don’t change most content on your main website pages, like your attorney bio and practice description pages. By keeping your blog as part of your main website, the static pages of your site benefit from the optimization and fresh content published on your blog.

Don’t Believe Your Website Developer. It Absolutely Can Be Done.

On the Inkling Media blog, Ken Mueller noted:

” Businesses get a website, and then they get a blog….Usually this is done because they don’t know how to add a blog to their site, or their web CMS isn’t blog friendly. If that’s the case, you might want to think about a complete redesign of your site to something that includes a blog, and again, I’ll put in a big plug for self-hosted WordPress sites.

“So why is it a problem if your blog doesn’t reside on your domain? Because you’re sending all the traffic to another domain: your blog. A blog will get heavier traffic than your site, and it’s more likely to have regularly changing content and important keywords, as well as attract inbound links. If that happens on your blog, your website is getting none of the credit.

“And don’t think that URL masking, redirecting, or even pulling the blog in via frames will help. The SEO credit will still go to the blog domain, not your website domain. The goal is to drive traffic to your site and get the SEO credit for it. This is a bit harder to remedy than the first three, but a quick chat with your web designer will let you know what your blogging options are for your site. And don’t take “No” for an answer. I’ve spoken to several businesses whose web team told them it couldn’t be done. If that’s the case, and SEO is important to you, it might be time for a new site (and a new web designer).”

Get Off on the Right Foot

Don’t forget, you don’t even need a “website.” A blog IS a website — a dynamic website. You can have pages on a blog and, with some of the great WordPress themes on the StudioPress Genesis Framework, you can create an attractive, high-impact website with full blog integration.

 

 

Legal Marketing: What You’re Missing at SXSW 2012

Every spring the social media and entertainment industries converge on Austin, Texas for SXSW (shorthand for South by Southwest), one of the most frantically busy and buzz-worthy conferences of the year.

For all the claims about lawyers as consummate networkers, I marvel that SXSW is not awash in IP, entertainment and small business/startup lawyers. The superabundance of crowded parties, meet-ups, hospitality pavilions and special events are a networker’s dream — start-up businesses, start-up films and start-up bands, all in need of lawyers with specific expertise.

Rocket Lawyer jumped into the networking fray this year with a Sociable Lawyer Premiere Event last Friday to promote its On Call lead referral program. Despite it being an uncharacteristically cold and rainy afternoon, a crowd of young lawyers converged on a Sixth Street bar to connect. I spent a while talking to some first-year associates about their experience with the controversial forms-driven service, and it was clear that Rocket Lawyer was on to something — building and strengthening connections with the current generation of solo and small-firm attorneys who “get it.”

A hidden bonus for lawyers at  SXSW is the free CLE. Yes, you can get free CLE as part of your SXSW admission.  I don’t know when they started, but for the past several years Lommen Abdo Law Firm has run a really interesting CLE track called “Legal Issues in the Music, Film and Emerging Technology Industries”  Talk about a marketing ROI goldmine….

This year the program boasts more than 40 industry leaders on different 13 panels. All SXSW registrants are welcome, but attorneys can register for up to 13 CLE credits and are given preferential access if the session is full.

Tomorrow’s sessions include:

Gimme Shelter from the Storm Clouds

As more products and services move to the proverbial cloud, from shared collaboration, commercial product offerings, and user-uploaded content, new business models are created while extant business models come under attack. This panel will explore the disruption caused by some new cloud-based services and how this disruption is affecting existing industries. For example, who is responsible for liabilities arising from the use or exploitation of content stored in the cloud; should Congress change the law to impose new liability/responsibilities on operators of cloud-based services; what rights, if any, do consumers have to perpetual access to their content in the cloud; can a user transfer their content in the cloud to another device or person? These and other questions will be addressed by the distinguished panel.

The Automobile as Network Node

Automobiles are increasingly connected to computer networks and are used to collect, use and share vehicle-related information. They also provide a delivery mechanism for driving, entertainment and other content and information. This panel will discuss legal issues arising out of and related to the collection, use and disclosure of vehicle-related information and related emerging legal issues of data use in or related to vehicles.

CLE panels later this week during the music festival portion include:

Royalties in the Digital Space: What, Where and How Much Are They?

Identifying, following and actually collecting essential money from a myriad of digital sources is a growing challenge. With the help of sophisticated music accountants, this panel will show what is at stake, and where and how to secure this income.

Licensing Madness: Exploitations a Go-Go

In a world where music is being licensed to promote, enhance, advertise and image almost everything, the deals and protocols are as varied as the uses themselves. The panel will identify uses and review common terms and deal expectations.

Run for Cover: The Future of Cloud Commerce

As traditional music consumer consumption habits evaporate into the cloud, a new legal and language lexicon casts a mighty shadow over the music business. This panel will analyze whether subscriptions and other alternatives present promise or problems in the new music economy.

Any interest in working with me to pitch social media for law firms panel ideas for next year’s SXSW?

Social Media for Law Firms: Ignite Internal Collaboration with Yammer

On last Friday’s #LegalChat on Twitter, the topic of using social media for internal collaboration came up. Several of us mentioned Yammer as a platform worth considering for large and multi-location firms.

Although the companies are not affiliated, a simple way to describe Yammer is a private version of Twitter.

“Enterprise social networking empowers employees to be more productive and successful by enabling them to collaborate easily, make smarter, faster decisions, and self-organize into teams to take on any business challenge. This new way of working drives business alignment and agility, reduces cycle times, increases employee engagement and improves relationships with customers and partners.”

If you’re open to a SaaS solution for enhancing organizational effectiveness and improving client service, Yammer offers some powerful capabilities:

  1. Connect subject matter experts and facilitate real-time online conversations across the firm.
  2. Create a dedicated team workspace for a matter, a practice area or a cross-functional group.
  3. Use it with, or as an alternative to, a content management system to share, store, and manage documents, presentations, images and videos.
  4. Create a secure external network to communicate/collaborate with clients and vendors — fewer phone calls.
  5. Stay connected through mobile devices — just like Twitter.
I expect data security paranoids will dump on this idea, but as social media-based solutions for law practice management go, Yammer is pretty slick and worth considering.
I’d love to hear from any law firms currently using or considering Yammer.


Law Practice Management: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Q: How is the “information overload” problem like America’s obesity epidemic?

A: We know what needs to be done to address it, but we’re daunted by the seeming enormity of the task, and too few of us make the effort.

While not as disturbingly graphic as a Dr. Oz episode on belly fat, the following infographic from Mindjet illustrates the negative impacts and costs of information overload, and 11 simple coping strategies we can all implement to help us deal with the volume and complexity of information in healthy and productive ways.

 

 

Endeavor to Be Useful: Legal Marketing Tips 12.31.11

A digest of social media “how-to” advice and tips for legal marketing.

  • Legal technology predictions for 2012 | Legal Currents
  • SEO Copywriting Tips for Improved Link Building | SEOmoz
  • The KISSmetrics Guide to Keyword Research – Part III: 40 Top Keyword Research Posts of 2011 | KISSmetrics
  • SEO Strategies and Inbound Marketing Best Practices for 2012 | Kaiserthesage
  • Top 25 Social Media Blogs For Businesses / Flowtown
  • 50 Awesome Posts on Email Marketing | Unbounce
  • 5 Steps to a Better SEO Strategy| Quicksprout

 

 

 

Law Practice Management: Fortune Favors the Bold

If you believe Vivia Chen’s recent post on Careerist, neither chief legal officers at corporations nor their outside counsel firms are seriously interested in alternative fee arrangements. Chen bolstered her thesis with an opinion from Corporate Counsel writer Nigel Holloway: “True, more than three-quarters of legal departments surveyed are initiating talks with their law firms over alternative fee arrangements, but these rarely bear fruit.”

What this perfunctory analysis elides is that even if clients are not aggressively pushing for AFAs, that doesn’t mean they are unquestioningly paying whatever bills they get. There are other reliable, time-tested ways to lower costs. As long as outside firms are willing to write off billable hours, clients can achieve their cost and productivity objectives without the trouble of negotiating complicated new service agreements.

While the profession dithers with what to do about the billable hours pricing model, a few firms are pioneering a wide range of technology-enabled efficiency and cost saving applications. As Hamlet observed, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

Hal M. Stewart, Chief Operating Officer of Chadbourne & Parke, recently offered a more action-oriented take on  how innovative law firms are lowering operating expenses. His excellent post outlines nine innovative technology applications already in use by some law firms that offer significant opportunities for cost reduction and organizational effectiveness:

  • Full digitization of incoming mail
  • “Hoteling” office space arrangements
  • E-billing for law firm vendors
  • Workflow automation for billing adjustments and A/R write-offs
  • Automated notification for AFA threshold reporting
  • Unified VOIP communication, collaboration and messaging infrastructure
  • Social media for recruitment and associate communications
  • Workflow-enabled transaction experience systems
  • Data mining for alternative fee arrangement pricing

The pressure on both in-house legal departments and outside counsel to deliver exceptional legal services at competitive rates is real and growing. AFAs are only one piece of the puzzle.

Do you think there’s a tipping point coming for bold moves into cost control and reduction, or will it continue to be  more talked about than acted on?

Smartphone Mobile Apps for Law Firms: Designing for the Client

Internet law attorney and legal marketing entrepreneur Aaron Kelly made headlines this summer with the launch of a smartphone mobile app for his clients. Unlike the initial wave of gimmicky marketing apps that amount to glorified speed dial, Kelly’s app is designed as a productivity platform, providing clients online communications and collaboration tools.

The iPhone- and Android-compatible legal app incorporates interactive features such as secure online payment through PayPal, live chat and Basecamp project management integration. From Basecamp, clients can view their case to-do list and monitor the status of their lawsuit. Additionally, clients have 24/7 access to their own legal documents via secure Dropbox folders.

Aaron kindly shared with me some of the backstory on the genesis of his firm’s mobile venture.

Q: What was the initial impulse to do some sort of legal app for mobile devices? How much did your concept for it change over time?

A: I can see that mobile is the wave of the future.  I wanted to make it easier for my current clients to reach me and to stay current with their case, and for new clients to connect with me.  We live in an era where information is available at the touch of the button, and we expect communication to be fluid and efficient.

 

Q: Before undertaking development, did you test the idea with colleagues/friends/clients? How much beta testing did you do before you officially launched?

A: I had tossed around the idea with a few friends but it never really got off the ground.  My biggest concern was Return on Investment and the costs.  We did beta for about a month before we launched.  There are always going to be bugs, and even now there are a few.  Thankfully, my developers are great to work with and have made updates on the fly.

 

Q: How long did development take, from initial inspiration to launch?

A: I think it took about 3-4 months total.  As we were going along I had a few more ideas (like adding basecamp) so we made a few changes. We had the initial framework done in less than a week, as I knew exactly what I wanted.

 

Q: What was the biggest challenge in bringing your app to market? Cost? Finding a suitable development vendor? Getting it approved for the iTunes store?

A: Cost, without a doubt.  Something like this is not cheap, and I had to have it written for two different operating systems.  To me, however, you cannot put a price on increasing communication and efficiency.  This app will save my clients time and money, something you can’t put a price tag on.

 

Q: In a previous conversation you mentioned that your development vendor actually found you. Did you consider other vendors? What evaluation criteria did you use?

A: I had looked at a few other vendors and even put some ads up on freelance work sites like odesk/elance.  None of the applicants were able to offer what I wanted….which was someone I was comfortable working with.  I’m big on working with people I trust and can relate with.  The developers that I hired had the same sense of humor as I did, took the time to answer my questions, and even put up with my numerous requests for changes.  They were awesome.  In evaluating the applicants I looked at their portfolio and their desire to innovate.

 

Q: Your practice focuses on Internet law, so presumably the app is immediately understood by and relevant to your current and prospective clients. Do you think a similar app would be useful for practice areas like family law, criminal defense and small business?

A: Whether the app works for a specific practice area depends on what the app does.  For example, many lawyers have simple apps that just have information about their firm or a map to their office.  That’s fine and all, but what would motivate someone to download that app?  You need to come up with a unique idea that provides form and function for the current or prospective client.  For example, a criminal defense lawyer could have an app that calculated blood alcohol level (within reason) provided a direct line to the lawyer in case of emergency, or offered incentives to use the app (aka a free consult).  There are a number of things that it could be used for, it just depends on how you market it.

 

Q: Data security for cloud-based storage — let alone collaboration platforms — is still a bugbear in legal circles. How to you address the issue with clients? Does it even come up?

A: The issue has never come up to be honest.  When I explain how cloud storage works, the client seems more relaxed.  I believe the data is safer at a facility that is SAS 70 compliant and has all the safeguards that a physical office doesn’t (I.e. 24/7 security, redundancy, biometric scanning).

 

Q: How are you measuring your return on investment? Number of downloads? Client comments? Number of active users?

A: So many people get caught up in ROI these days.  People try and measure the ROI of social media, SEO, etc.  I”m a firm believer that you just can’t measure the complete ROI of these things.  The fact that my existing clients can use it makes ROI irrelevant in some aspects.  If it gets me new clients, great….but that wasn’t the biggest consideration I had when I developed the app.

 

Q: Since you own the IP for this application, have you considered licensing it?

A: Yes, absolutely.  I’m working with the same firm that developed my app to work on developing it for other attorneys.  My background, both in law and marketing, helps me to develop new concepts that other attorneys can utilize in their app.

 

Q: What’s your key piece of advice for solo and small firms considering development of a mobile device app?

A: Don’t just develop and app for the sake of developing an app.  Think about what you’re going to use it for.  Test it with your current clients.  Ask them what they would like to see in it.  See what types of phones they are using, or whether they are using tablet based computers.  Invest more time in flushing out how the current client could use the app, rather than prospective.  It’s always better to keep the current client happy.

 

Have you launched a mobile app? What are your best practice tips in smartphone mobile apps for law firms?

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 4: Shorter, More Frequent and In Person

As discussed in the first post of this series, conducting client satisfaction surveys is as much marketing as it is client service. The frequency of surveys, their method of delivery, the breadth and depth of topics covered, and even the way the questions are structured all tell clients a story about your firm.

Frequency – In a professional services environment predicated on deep personal connections with clients, fielding a client satisfaction survey only once a year  seems perfunctory. Even if you have informal channels and tools for gathering  client feedback throughout the year, an official outreach on a quarterly or semi-annual basis telegraphs active interest and engagement — that you don’t take them for granted.

Method of Delivery – If someone can make a persuasive argument as to why mailing/e-mailing law firm client satisfaction survey forms constitutes better client service, please do so in the comment section below. A printed form should be hand-delivered to the intended recipient, accompanied by 1) a statement of appreciation for the client’s business and 2) a spoken, personal invitation to complete the survey candidly. In the case of an e-mail survey, make sure the message doesn’t end up in your client’s inbox without a personal heads-up — by phone or in person — to expect it. Steps 1 & 2 above obtain in this scenario as well.

Breadth and Depth of Topics Covered – Typical surveys take a “kitchen sink” approach, with questions ranging from the make-or-break (“How likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?”) to the mundane (“Returns phone calls as promptly as I wish”). This approach inevitably results in questionnaires that are too long, which causes respondents to race through later questions. This is a particularly serious shortcoming when you have open-ended questions at the end of a long survey, because respondents are much less likely to provide thoughtful, detailed comments.

Instead of one long annual survey, consider fielding several smaller ones focused on a single client service category (e.g. core capabilities, responsiveness and collaboration, cost management/value, technology utilization, privacy/data security).  In addition to operationalizing client service conversations, you’ll obtain higher quality feedback.

Question Structure – Open-ended questions yield more useful feedback. If, however, you choose a closed-ended format, take special care in how you structure and word the questions and pre-populated response options (if you’re not using some sort of number or letter rating scale). The worst thing you can do is frame responses in such a way that it appears you’re trying to put words in the respondent’s mouth. Like this actual Big Law firm example [firm’s name is redacted]:

Rating Scale:

A – Exceptional Performance, rarely equaled by other law firms.  XYZ LLC  is the firm I hire for my legal needs.

B – Above Average.  Exceeds my expectations frequently.  I usually call XYZ LLC first.

C – Average.  Satisfactorily meets my standards.  XYZ LLC isn’t my first choice.

D – Below Average.  Failed to meet my standards in a material way.  I am seeking other counsel.

F – Unacceptable.  Without a significant and sustained effort by XYZ LLC to improve, I will discontinue using the firm.

As they say on TV lawyer shows, “Objection. Leading the witness.” Also, doesn’t “D” sound worse than “F”? And would clients experiencing “D”- or “F”-level service even bother filling out a survey form?

 

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 3: Three Ways to Make Your IT Capabilities a Strength

The role of information technology in law practice management and legal services delivery is one of the most discussed and debated topics in the profession. So why aren’t law firms using their client satisfaction surveys to obtain client feedback and promote engagement on IT?

The most likely root cause is that typical client surveys are devised by lawyers for lawyers. The respective IT departments — law firm and client — are not part of the process.

How to Turn Your Technology Capabilities into a Survey Asset

  • Make it clear that the firm believes information technology is essential to service delivery  —  Whether or not they are power users, regularly communicate with your clients about how your firm is applying new technology to improve service delivery. Use the survey to track awareness and measure the value of those capabilities.
  • Directly involve your IT team — Encourage direct contact and interaction between your IT team and your clients’ in the survey process.
  • Be prepared — Track what competitors and clients are doing with cloud-based information technologies and collaborative platforms. Even if the firm will not be moving immediately into those environments, IT planners should at least be prepared to respond quickly and persuasively if technology surfaces as an issue/opportunity in your survey.

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback

Your client satisfaction survey is comprised of closed-ended questions with a limited number of response options. Respondents are asked to rate various performance factors on a 1-5 numerical scale. Your most important client rated you a “4” in overall satisfaction. In fact, all of the responses were 3s or 4s. They’re not unhappy, but they’re not thrilled. Not ready to leave, but not necessarily willing to give you additional matters or provide recommendation and referrals.

What actionable information has that survey given you? As discussed in the previous post, the law firm client satisfaction survey should be a research and marketing exercise, not a popularity poll. In a relationship-driven profession, the most effective survey instrument for collecting meaningful, actionable information is a survey form or script that relies primarily on open-ended questions.

Metagora makes the case succinctly:

  • Open-ended questions allow respondents to include more information, including feelings, attitudes and understanding of the subject. This allows researchers to better access the respondents’ true feelings on an issue. Closed-ended questions, because of the simplicity and limit of the answers, may not offer the respondents choices that actually reflect their real feelings. Closed-ended questions also do not allow the respondents to explain that they do not understand the question or do not have an opinion on the issue.
  • Open-ended questions cut down on two types of response error: respondents are not likely to forget the answers they have to choose from if they are given the chance to respond freely; and open-ended questions simply do not allow respondentsto disregard reading the questions and just “fill in” the survey with all the same answers (such as filling in the “no” box on every question).
  • Research has shown that open-ended questions are better for eliciting sensitive information than closed-ended questions.

Granted, the narratives generated by open-ended surveys require more work (read: time and expense) to compile and clearly present, but the depth and breadth of insight you gain will more than compensate. Most importantly, your clients will notice — and think of you more positively.