Dinosaur lawyers beware!
The Internet is still a new tool. In March 2008, 85% of Canadians use the Internet, up from 40% in 2000 and 67% in 2005.
And my, how the legal profession has changed:
- Inter-lawyer communication is now mostly done by email;
- Phasing out of the fax machine;
- Introduction of notebooks into the Courtroom;
- Introduction of wireless connection into the courtroom;
- Cancellation of current hard copy law reports at law library and replacement by electronic databases;
- Introduction of inter-lawyer, Internet long-distancing and Skype conferencing;
- Statutes and case law online.
And perhaps most importantly, more readily available legal information means more savvy clients.
Think: Instant delivery and reception.
According to the Courts (Braintech Inc. v Kostiuk 171 DLR 4th 46 (1999, BCCA)), the Internet is:
"A global super-network of ... computer networks used by ... individuals, corporations, organizations, and educational institutions worldwide."
The main feature of the Internet – missing from the Court’s decision - is the feature that data (information) or files (including images) is instantly delivered and received.
This is what makes the Internet so exciting to the future of the practise of law. The very word Internet is synonymous with instant, as in the speed of light.
This simple phrase captures the future and is a core concept for any law firm. It is a key to survival and, if they really get it, thrive. Law firm dinosaurs may have trouble with this concept.
And the further fact is that the Internet is in its infancy.
Google founder Larry Page says that we’re only using 5% of using the potential of the Internet. If this is true, then we are but on the cusp of the Internet’s potential.
Google is the runaway giant of the Internet at this time. Their mission statement:
"To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful."
They are scanning law books by the thousands including Blackstone’s Commentaries.
Already, the full view collection alone rivals the collection of most law libraries and includes topics on almost all areas of the law.
Einstein used to believe that most humans have not the intellectual capacity to grasp the concept of infinity. It may be this same limitations that forebears so many from grasping the Internet’s evolution. It is changing the landscape of almost every human activity on the planet. The delivery of law and justice is not exempt.
Ignore it at your peril.
Good – Better – Best
The lawyers must have a website.
A basic website is "good"; a bare necessity for any law practice.
The Internet is quickly making the Yellow Pages redundant for basic business information. So without an Internet webpage, you will appear archaic and be invisible to many – colleagues and clients alike.
A basic website costs little ($350 to set up; $50/month thereafter).
The basis website is the billboard webpage: logo, name, address, phone number and email address.
You can even have your own vanity url: YOURLAWFIRMNAME.CA
Don’t have one? Get one!
Have one? Make it better!
A better strategy is to hire a website designer and construct a multipage law practice website.
The content starts with an entry point (called a "home page). To this, the icing is the lawyer bio and publishing of client "legal information" hand-outs.
A good solid law firm website should provide basic legal information relevant to the field.
Lawyers have had legal information hand-outs for years – it’s the same concept – just publish them!
Limit the article to 1,000-word plain language basic topics.
Think: ADR FOR DUMMIES. Enlighten your clients: explain yourself to a Grade 11 audience.
You are seen to Internet users as a legal/law expert and one up-to-date on technology. What client does not want to know that their lawyer is conversant with contemporary business tools?
A blog is a self-publish electronic newsletter. It is often used as an opinion platform. You are presently reading a blog.
A properly done blog is a 100% guarantee of new work!
But, strictly speaking, a blog, contrary to a website, is not a law practice necessity.
Lawyers are often pleasantly surprised to find that blogs come easily to them. Typically, lawyers are above-average, if not excellent writers. And, they tend to enjoy writing. Thus, a natural blogging advantage!
Blogs self-market. Contrary to websites, blogs are well-marketed (catalogued) within the Internet with many blog cataloguing sites out there: Technorati, Feedburner, etc. This is a good thing - as it facilitates visibility of, and access and traffic to, your new blog.
Blog Secret #1:
Find a niche. What kind of law or DR do you do? That’s your niche! Write about it! Share your knowledge! Give … and thou shalt receive. Examples: child custody, corporate share management, income tax ....
Blog Secret #2:
Keep it simply stupid! Unless you specialize in referrals from other lawyers, such as lawyer bill referrals to the Registrar or appellate work, write for the general public – not for the lawyer. If you’re going to use "big words", define them for the reader or hyperlink them to a good, online dictionary (preferably mine at www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary.aspx).
Blog Secret #3
Keep it short; some say 30 words but for a lawyer, you can't give much legal information in 300 words. My advice: 800 to 1,000 words. Except for doctorate students, Internet users (read … "potential clients"), have short attention spans. The Internet means that they don’t need to walk past the receptionist to leave your blog – the exit is always a click away! Whereas, theretofores and hereinafters to be avoided.
Blog Secret #4
A niche law blog is the best continuing legal education (CLE) you’ll ever have. Keeping up with current law in your niche, and then researching and writing about it with your professional name on the line, is an excellent way to do CLE. Most lawyers resist CLE but you direct the CLE when you blog so you won’t even feel that you’re being CLE-ed!
Blog Secret #5
Your blog will allow you to network with other similarly-minded lawyers, who blog in the same area as your niche. These networks are invaluable in:
- Colleagues and resources in the event of a new issue;
- Potential cross-referrals if a reader inquires with your new friends re retainer and resides in your jurisdiction; and
- They link to you and you to them thus increasing your traffic and, more importantly, credibility with the readers and the Internet blog cataloguing sites.
Blog Secret #6
It’s free! There are many blog sites out there that host your blog at no cost. Eg.: Google’s blogger.com.
Blog Secret #7
You control the content!
That means avoid allowing comments on your blog. As a lawyer and unless you're independently wealthy, you don't have time to "play in the sandbox" (host, engage and moderate a free legal advice/information website) and it may be a recipe for liability if your "information" is taken for advice.
This law blog allows comments but this blog supports duhaime.org, not my law practice (Duhaime Law).
Use extreme caution when writing on Wikipedia. Wiki-wannabes allow open editing! What's the point for lawyers?
Sample … damn good blog
aka The Trademark Blog.
Niche-d, focused, well-organized, respected, credible and frequently updated (and produced by a Canadian techie!)
Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites
At this time, there is little value in professional marketing in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
Like anything else, these sites should be monitored as any new feature might change this assessment.
Facebook has begun to allow private companies, such as law firms, to open a distinct Facebook page. These sites may also eventually waken to the potential of groups that specialize in specific areas of the law, medicine, engineering etc.
While this is free, Facebook is known to invasive practices such as promotion of your presence and personal information to others based on their criteria – not yours.
Social networking is what it says it is: social networking. From a law firm marketing perspective, the value is negligible except in some rare circumstances (eg. a lawyer practising in a small town may wish to portray their technological savvy by having an active presence in the local Facebook group).
There are a few American sites now vying for lawyer "social networking" standing but all these sites are American, require membership or logins and just dilute the water. My conclusions:
TS - VA ≤ Ø
... or Time Spent - Value Added = not worth it for most lawyers!
- Get a website or whither
- Want clients? Blog!
- Social networking is mostly for teenagers.