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									                      FAMILY LAW WEBSITES:
                  THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY

                               ABA Family Law Seminar
                                San Juan, Puerto Rico
                                     April 2004

                                   Melissa F. Brown, Esquire1
                                     Melissa F. Brown, LLC
                                      145 King St., Ste. 405
                                     Charleston, SC 29401
                                   melissa@melissa-brown.com
                                    www.melissa-brown.com

         Every law firm, regardless of size, should have an online presence. Today, people

expect most businesses, especially successful ones, to have a presence on the Internet.

This same expectation is true for law firms.

         Lawyers are notoriously slow to integrate new technology into their practices.

Some attorneys even considered it a badge of honor not having a computer on their desk.

Some of you can probably name these attorneys, and thank goodness---because they

make it easier for those of us who are willing to embrace the twenty-first century to have

a greater stake of the profitable, family law market.

         Given many attorneys’ reluctance to keep abreast of technology, the opportunity

exists to set yourself apart through cost saving software and marketing on the Internet

with informative websites that promote your practice. This paper will focus on the use

of family law websites and why you should become familiar with the designs that work


1
  Mrs. Brown primarily represents clients involved in Family Court cases. She is the Past Chair of the
South Carolina Family Law Section and Co-Vice Chair of the ABA Family Law Office Management
Committee. She is by no means a technology expert, but she has made a number of technology missteps
and having learned valuable lessons from these experiences, she hopes to help others avoid similar, costly
mistakes.



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so you can promote yourself online without investing too much time or effort away from

your law practice.

        The Internet is simply a venue for communication. Since family law attorneys are

paid to communicate with others, we must have a presence here. People, i.e. clients,

expect to find information about all topics on the Internet, including finding a good

family law attorney.

        Richard Lozano, a former attorney who now designs websites writes, “Moreover,

the attorney-client relationship is as much about [the] interpersonal connection as

anything else. You are the commodity and you must put yourself on display, allowing the

prospective client to take a look and kick the tires. People appreciate and want as much

information as they can get. Law firms that have a strong Internet presence therefore

enjoy a significant advantage over those that do not.”2

        The temptation to completely hand over your website design to a professional and

return to the practice of law is great. However, the attorney must involve herself in the

process because, just as the divorce attorney needs information from the client to properly

handle his case, the web designer also needs information and guidance to design a site

that conveys the attorney's image and message to attract desirable, prospective clients.

Thus, when it comes to the finished product, the website designer is ultimately only as

good as the information provided by the attorney.




2
  Lozano, Richard, "Tips," www.poweradvocates.com. Mr. Lozano is a former attorney who now designs
attorney websites, and his company is called PowerAdvocates. He designed the author’s website and
continues to maintain it. The author’s experience with Mr. Lozano was very positive and while this article
includes a number of his suggestions, the author is not being compensated for references to him.



                                                    2
       Surprisingly, many well-respected firms have failed to recognize this simple

premise. Many prestigious firms have amateur websites that advertise a poor image

rather than convey the distinguished reputation the firm enjoys in the legal community.

Lawyers must remember that most clients are very comfortable using the Internet.

Ignoring the opportunity to put the firm's best face forward on the Web may close the

door to desirable clients and great cases.

DOMAIN NAME

       A domain name, also called a URL, is your unique Internet address. The

selection of a memorable name is key to developing a popular site because it plays a large

role in helping quickly and easily find your site.

       While a name may not seem all that important to you, ‘business.com’ sold for $8

million. A do-it-yourself divorce form company owns the name www.divorce.com.

While it may not be worth $8 million, there are probably divorce lawyers or divorce

related companies who would pay a lot of money to own this site.

       If you are in a state that has www + your state's initials + divorce.com or www +

your city's name + divorce.com, consider purchasing those names immediately. Divorce

attorneys want to attract the clients who have cases in the cities and states where they

practice. The fact that a New York client is impressed by a California divorce attorney's

website is not help to that individual unless the attorney is licensed in New York as well

as California and is willing to handle New York cases.

       A domain name can be registered through a number of registries, such as

www.register.com and www.networksolutions.com. Compare each company’s prices

and services because they can vary greatly.




                                              3
           Visiting a registry also allows you to determine whether or not a domain name is

for purchase. If a domain name is owned by someone else, the registry will provide the

owner's contact information. Many owners are willing to sell their names for a fee.

           Another option is to lease a domain name. While this option may be appealing, it

is the equivalent to investing lots of money into property you rent and losing all ability to

benefit from your investment since the owner maintains the control. However, domain

names are not sold like real property. You only purchase them for a period of time----not

for life----so the length of time you want to retain your control over your domain name is

another decision that must be made.

           Another method of domain ownership is through a nested domain name, such as

www.lawyers.com/melissa-brown.com. Be wary of purchasing a nested domain name

because it is “the equivalent of living in someone else’s house and hoping people find

you in the phone book by your association with this other person."3

CREATING YOUR DOMAIN NAME

           Many firms use their initials followed by ‘law,’ ‘-law’ or ‘attorneys’ as their

domain names. Using initials or abbreviations can make a name harder to remember. A

firm in South Carolina uses www.baronylaw.com.4 This name sounds good until you

learn that 'Barony' is not part of the firm name, and no lawyer in the firm has the last

name Barony. Barony is simply the nickname for the area of town where their office is

located. If a client or an attorney is unfamiliar with that city, it is unlikely they will easily

find this website.




3
    Id.
4
    I used a fictitious name to avoid embarrassing the firm.


                                                        4
         Another firm5 in SC has two major offices in two different cities. This firm uses

two different names; one city tacks on the name of a prominent attorney located there.

The firm's website and e-mail addresses, however, only use the initials of the shorter

name, www.abc.com which is confusing for those clients in the city with the longer

name.

         A better marketing approach might be to use the first two names of the firm,

which most people use to refer to the firm anyway, and use those names as the firm's

domain name, such as www.allgoodblue.com.6 The moral is to avoid allowing egos or

poor marketing ideas to cloud good business decisions in creating a memorable name.

         As you shop for your name, remember that ‘.com’ is the most recognized

extension. While a good name may be available in ‘.biz’, '.law', '.net', and '.org', these

extensions are simply not as well known. Further, many web browsers assume ‘.com’ is

the chosen extension so if it is left off the address bar, many search engines automatically

substitute it and the site is still located.

         If you are able to obtain the name with the extension ‘.com’ consider buying the

same name with the other extensions, if available, to protect yourself. As the extension

'.law' becomes better known and recognized by web browsers, it could become to

attorneys in helping potential clients narrow their search for a lawyer.

         A memorable domain name is like not other "means of advertising . . . . [It] will

tell your story much more completely and effectively than a print, television or radio

ad.”7



5
  Fictitious name.
6
  Fictitious name.
7
  Id.


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THE LOOK

        Gina Furia Rubel8 advises attorneys to create websites that “communicate a

specific message to your target audience . . . [to] provide a valuable experience for your

visitors and to generate new business.”9 Her article points out that successful websites

contain the following attributes:

        Clean

        Clear

        Concise

        Consistent

        Creative

        Client-centric and

        Constant

Keeping these Seven "C's" in mind will help provide an image of what sells to potential

web surfers and what does not.

        If you are attracted to interactive and dynamic websites and want yours to contain

graphics and flashy movement, know that search engines have difficulty locating such

sites on the Web. Thus, such sites will not attract prospective clients unless they know

your exact web address. Hiring a designer who understands that your goal is to attract

good clients, not impress those you already have, will pay off in accomplishing what you

have set out to do.




8
  She is a former attorney who now owns Furia Rubel Communications, Inc. She now advises lawyers
about Internet communications.
9
  Rubel, Gina Furia, “Seven “C’s” For Winning Website Content,” Technology and the Law 2003 Lawyers
Weekly Insert.


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           An impressive family law site is www.kirsh.com.10 This website is used by an

Indianapolis, Indiana adoption firm, and it contains lots of bells and whistles. Its

"Lullaby Louie" presentation is so powerful it is probably one of the main reasons a

potential client is initially drawn to their firm.

           However, when I tried to find this firm through Google by plugging in the terms

"Indiana and adoption," the first ten pages of Google did not even reference the site.11

The Kirsh site, however, did come up in a directory of Indiana adoption attorneys. The

problem, though, is that this directory contained so many Indiana adoption attorneys, few

potential clients would find the Kirsh firm. The directory did not distinguish it from the

other firms. Thus, prospective client would need to view each listing to find the most

impressive site. The point, therefore, is that cool graphics, music and the like may

adversely affect the chances of your site being found on the Internet.

INFORMATION TO INCLUDE ON YOUR SITE

      •    Your picture

      •    Address and contact information, including e-mails for attorneys and staff

      •    Biographical information about the attorneys

      •    Awards, certifications, Martindale Hubbell rating or distinctions

      •    Offices held in state and national organizations related to the practice of family
           law
      •    Your state's child support calculator

      •    Financial Forms

10
   This site was designed by Attorney Marketing Network, Inc. Ron Sweet is their Marketing Director.
Email: rons@attorneymarketing.net, Web: www.attorneymarketing.net; Direct: 800-449-1701; Fax: 775-
263-7825. I have no affiliation with this company, and I am not receiving any fee for my recognition of
them.
11
     I am not sure if Google ever picked up the site because I tired of looking for it after page 10.



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     •   Articles you have written about family law issues

     •   Article from services, such as Martindale Hubbell, that provide new newsletters
         on family law topics to your website each month.12

     •   Continuing Legal Education Seminars that you have presented or organized

     •   A form for prospective clients to fill out to narrow their issues and to help you

         determine whether or not this is a client you desire

     •   An online fee calculator (Lee Rosen, Esq. designed this feature for clients, and he
         charges them a set fee. The calculator is on his website. www.rosen.com or
         www.ncdivorce.com.)

     •   Create a forum on your site. With a forum, "the attorney assumes the role of
         expert and fields questions online in a regularly scheduled chat session. For a half
         hour or so investment per week, this interaction allows the attorney a way to reach
         out and connect with people. It’s like having your own ‘ask the lawyer’ talk
         show."13

     •   Links

              o Your state's laws affecting family law matters

              o Useful websites

                            Books that help the client through divorce

                            Support groups

              o Other excellent attorneys in your state and other states

              o ABA Family Law Section Website

              o American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers




12
   Martindale Hubbell provides such a service for approximately $300+, and each month 10 new family law
related articles are added to a family law attorney's site. The articles are fairly generic so they apply to all
states, and Martindale Hubbell is apparently sensitive to submitting different articles to attorneys in the
same area. The attorney may also copy an article if she wants to "keep" it on her site at all times.
Otherwise, each new batch of articles refreshes last month's batch.
13
   Id.


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DIRECTORIES

       When you list your firm in a directory, you are relying on the directory to market

and promote your practice. When clients find the directory, your firm competes with

many others for attention. Moreover, your listing will not provide a unique Internet

address to reference in your other marketing efforts (i.e. www.thisismylawfirm.com).

       Directory listings are groups such as www.divorcesource.com,

www.legalmatch.com and www.split-up.com. DivorceSource charges a small fee and

Split-Up is free. Legalmatch.com is free to clients but attorneys pay a fee "to be found"

which may not justify the clients who find them.

       Many other directories are sorted by geographic location, which narrows the field

of competitors, but of course, these local competitors will be listed next to your name.

While directory listings are important, promoting your web site on the Internet must

include ways that will drive high traffic to it, and this is will best accomplished by

maintaining an independent web site.

       Recently, the Family Law list serve debated the pros and cons of advertising on

Martindale Hubbell’s lawyers.com. The majority of comments concluded the cost did

not justify the return, but it is still one of many ways to develop your business online.

Thus, directories are great, and many are free, but they should not be your only method to

advertise on the Web.




                                              9
SEARCH ENGINES

         The Search Engines are the key to finding your website. The most popular are

Google, Yahoo and MSN.14 Yahoo and MSN's search results are both provided from a

search engine called Inktomi. If you submit your site through

http://www.positiontech.com, which provides express submission to Inktomi, you can kill

two birds with one stone. Optimizing for Google has become a trip to see the Wizard of

Oz. Just when you think you have it figured out, a flying monkey screws it all up.

         Fortunately, positioning your website is a challenge for your web designer and

your website maintenance company---not the attorney. However, the attorney must

understand that positioning your website is just as important, if not more important, than

having a great site because the key is for people to find your website.

EXCELLENT FAMILY LAW WEBSITES TO VIEW:

     •   www.ncdivorce.com or www.rosen.com - Lee Rosen, Esq., firm which is the
         largest divorce firm in North Carolina. You must check out Lee's site because he
         not only offers lots of informative material for his clients, but he also provides a
         service to his clients that allows them 24/7 access to every document in their files.
         In addition, he provides an attorney fee calculator and based upon the calculator,
         he quotes clients a fixed fee to represent them rather than the hourly rate most
         lawyers use. Apparently, Lee has found much success with this method, but he is
         the only attorney I have talked to that believes in fee-based divorces. His office is
         paperless and somehow, his staff manages to scan every document into their
         database so every document is at the attorneys' fingertips! [Next year, I nominate
         Lee Rosen to teach us how to become this successful in our own practices.]

     •   http://www.raggiolaw.com/ - Law offices of Ragio & Ragio, P.L.L.C. - one of
         the most prestigious divorce firms in the country. Their site offers lots of good
         articles relating to the practice of Family Law in Texas.


     •   http://www.codivorce.com/ - Law Office of Stephen J. Harhai - the author of
         The Colorado Handbook and a practicing attorney who also happens to be a

14
   The latest Nielsen statistics, February 2004, show that the order of search engines is Google, Yahoo! and
then MSN. http://www.nielsen-netratings.com.


                                                    10
       techie guru. Stephen is one of the few attorneys who not only understands
       everything about computers, but he also has time to practice law. Stephen's firm
       has also successfully become paperless and his attorneys have access to client
       files no matter where they are in the world.


DOWNSIDE OF BEING FOUND TOO FREQUENTLY

       The downside of having an easily found site is receiving too much e-mail from

people who want free advice. Answering these e-mails is time-consuming and frustrating

and may not enhance your practice. To avoid wasting time on inquiries who will not

become clients, set up a screening method through a staff person who reads all the e-

mails first, or use your delete button more frequently. Another option is to have a more

detailed response sheet such as one with drop down menus to indicate the value of a

potential client's assets and income. It is also helpful to include space where the potential

client can provide more detailed information about their case so the attorney can better

determine whether or not to respond to the inquiry.

UPSIDE OF BEING FOUND FREQUENTLY

       The upside to having a popular site is being found and hired by incredible clients.

Many clients tell attorneys with impressive websites that they either found their site while

conducting an Internet search or after being given an attorney's name, they were able to

look up the attorney to learn more about her practice before making the first call.

Apparently, clients also use websites when they must choose between two excellent

attorneys. Thus, the site may also serve as a deciding factor about whom they hire.




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CONCLUSION

        There are many other technical aspects to creating a great website, but these

details are for the web designer to worry about as the attorney, not the client, is in charge

of legal research. The attorney's job is to recognize the opportunity to market her practice

on the Internet to better convey an impressive, professional image to others looking for

an experienced attorney in their community.

        Investing the time, money and energy to develop a great site will bring untold

rewards and make the hard work worthwhile. And, while the legal industry remains slow

to adopt twenty-first century technology, an attorney is foolish not to take advantage of

the incredible opportunity to soar ahead of the competition.




Permission to publish this article on the web was granted by Melissa Brown. For reprint permission, please
contact Nicole Maggio of the ABA Reprint Office at copyrights@abanet.org.




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