Archive for the ‘Smartphones For Lawyers’ Category
[This article was originally published on www.SLAW.ca in September, 2010]
Five years ago, law firm web strategy for most firms I encountered consisted of the following statement: “Yes, we have a website”. If a firm could check that box, most felt they had done their duty and could get back to the more important work of practicing law. No longer.
The last half-decade has seen us move from a prevailing standard of mere existence online to a new framework where the firm website now forms the backbone of many firms’ marketing efforts, irrespective of firm size. Looking ahead, I see increasing emphasis on three broad areas: content, conversations and search engine visibility.
The Evidence Is In
The growing importance of the online environment for the legal world has paralleled its ascendance in other industries (see: music, news and more recently book publishing as examples of the larger trend). Additionally, a body of evidence has accumulated specific to law that supports shifting priorities towards a web-dominant marketing focus. See, for example, a recent research survey on corporate counsel new media engagement from Greentarget Strategic Communications or Greenfield Belser’s Digital Marketing 2010 for detailed insights on what sophisticated purchasers of legal services are now doing online.
With the landscape rapidly evolving, we have seen a maturation of what constitutes a “good” law firm website. Matt Homan of Lexthink LLC gently satirized both law firm websites and lawyer bios recently with a pair of venn diagrams that underscores a common weakness of the genre – sites and bios built for what lawyers think they should be rather than what clients are actually seeking. That led to an excellent reply from Robert Ambrogi on The Art and Science of Lawyer Bios in which he refines Homan’s critique by asserting that much of the “standard” bio information (law school attended, Martindale-Hubbell ratings, etc.) that Homan impugns is in fact still relevant to clients. Ambrogi asserts that the real sin with lawyer bios is that they lack personality, life, vibrancy and interest. Both Homan’s diagrams and Ambrogi’s blog post have been well circulated online and the lively discussion about them evidences a growing awareness of the importance of lawyer bios and a sincere interest in improving them.
More sophisticated strategies are also emerging amongst the most engaged firms towards website analytics and search engine optimization. Slaw’s own Steve Matthews recently provided a detailed post on tactics for search engine optimization on a practice group level. This sort of granularity and detailed behind-the-scenes work on specific key elements of the firm website is not yet the norm, but it’s where we are headed.
Additionally, many firms are extending their visibility and online reach beyond their websites. Some of the more common vehicles to achieve this now include:
A small handful of firms have also launched iPhone apps, and more are expected soon. Many other firms are wrestling with just how many and which of these “extras” are worth their while. It’s an important question, and one that is not amenable to glib or one-size-fits-all answers.
So where does that leave you today in terms of priorities, and where things are heading? Despite the web’s growing complexity, I believe the path to success for lawyers online is ultimately growing at least clear, if not easy. In my view, firms can position themselves for online success by thinking about the web in three parts:
Content: More than ever, content is king. Saying you are leaders in a certain area or type of practice is no longer sufficient. Clients now want to see it for themselves, first-hand in the form of direct links to your judgments, articles, blog posts, case studies, peer-review rankings and other validating source material. You must demonstrate that you have done exactly the kind of work they need doing, that you’ve done it for clients in their industry, and that you are eager to help them solve their issues. The type of empty prose that made anonymous law firm an all-too-successful caricature of the genre a few years back is going to wane in favour of a more transparent approach to surfacing the real work product and personalities of your firm. This is the deepening component, and much of it will, or should, reside primarily on firm-controlled web properties including the firm website and blogs.
Conversations: While firm websites are critical, it is also becoming clear that they are no longer sufficient in and of themselves, for the simple reason that they are largely structured as one-way communication vehicles – the firm broadcasts information and clients (hopefully) consume it. However, a significant amount of your target audience’s time online is spent in places other than your website – on social networks, on industry portals, on listservs and blogs. The common element is that these are communities where dialogue and multi-party communication takes place. Your lawyers need to go and meet the clients where they are online, be involved in these conversations, adding value, putting a human face on the firm, generating visibility and demonstrating an awareness of and involvement in the issues relevant to your client’s industry. Where appropriate, you can then use these channels to guide interested parties back to the relevant original content you have available on your own web properties. This is the realm of social media, blogs and gated online legal communities. This kind of engagement also typically leads to increased speaking opportunities and interview requests in relevant trade press. The specifics of which channels you use and how many of them your firm participates in will be decided on a firm-by-firm basis, but the need to engage on some level is a reality that more and more firms will be addressing in the near future.
Search: Search visibility has not been prioritized for many mid-sized and large firms in the past, but it is gaining traction. While firms would love – and frequently ask for – a magic bullet solution that immediately lands them atop the Google results for any and all possible search terms, the reality is that attending to the content and conversation mandates outlined above will be the best first path to improved search rankings for most firms. Targeted, in the trenches work of the kind outlined in Steve Matthews’ SEO for practice groups piece can then be effectively used to extend search visibility even further, but it is extremely difficult to build significant search engine presence when there’s no “there” there. Good search results have their foundation in deep content and multiple inbound links to your sites from a variety of third-party web properties that search engines recognize as credible and relevant to your industry.
To summarize then: Provide substance. Take it to where your clients are. Then seek to make sure others like them can see it too. Plus ça change. . .
Torys LLP has launched what appears to be the first Canadian law firm iPhone application. Available as a free download via the iTunes app store, the app includes sections incorporating the firm’s twitter stream, publications, a lawyer directory, video content and firm contact information and maps.
While they may be first to market in Canada, this app is not something that has been haphazardly banged together – quite the opposite in fact. The firm has clearly put some solid thinking behind what information should be included and how it is presented. For example, the lawyer directory goes beyond a simple list to include the lawyers’ photos, short form versions of their bios and links to the full website versions. The contact information includes GPS functionality and live directions to their offices. As already noted on Slaw:
The GPS features might be useful for visitors to Toronto, or the hapless OCI student trying to find their way to an in-firm interview.
The app might even be useful for that cocktail party where you know the lawyer across the room works at Torys, and quite embarrassingly cannot remember their name.
Earlier this year well-known legal blogging and technology thought-leader Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog wrote on his blog about why firms should forget about building an iPhone App. To summarize his arguments, Kevin says: 1) in a sea of 150,000+ different apps, yours will never get found or widely used, and 2) the logic behind building a law firm app is flawed because that’s like asking people to download a separate app for every content source they follow instead of using well-known destinations where content is already aggregated. For those reasons, he concludes that developing an iPhone app is a waste of resources and time and makes your firm look silly by demonstrating a misunderstanding of how content is consumed online.
I have great respect for Kevin and he and I see the world alike more often than not, but on this topic I think he’s DEAD WRONG.
My position is that the goal of a large law firm iPhone app is not to be magically discovered by the world at large in that giant app-sea of games, productivity tools, and time-wasters. Rather, it is to provide existing and prospective clients that already have the firm squarely on their radar another access point and contact opportunity, and to strengthen their sense of connection with the firm. If I’m a new client sitting in the lobby in advance of my second meeting, I might very well appreciate having easy access to the names and faces of lawyers two, three or four that I’ve only met briefly even though I already know my primary contact well. If I’m a General Counsel sitting at the airport and find myself with a half-hour flight delay, I might well browse through my apps and decide to scan a few headlines from the firm’s twitter feed, which the app makes dead-simple for me to find.
As an end-user, the mere presence of the App on my phone also creates ongoing additional top-of-mind awareness for those firms that do make it onto my system, every time I scan through my phone, which is daily. Kevin himself points out in his post that the way we consume content is changing at lightning speed. That being the case, why would we presume to speak for whether or not it is “silly” for someone else to consume law firm content via a standalone app instead of via a blog, a twitter client, or a website? If there is one thing the 300 channel tv universe and the explosion of social media online has shown us, it is that we don’t all want our content in one homogenous fashion.
Kevin also writes that he thinks the upcoming iPad is going to be “a game-changer”. Well guess what – those standalone law firm iPhone apps he dislikes are going to work from day 1 on the iPad and could be great high-tech “lobby material” in lieu of the traditional printed firm brochure – that would send a pretty clear message to clients about the level of technological savvy they can expect from their counsel. My money also says that the firms building iPhone apps now are also going to be the early adopters in getting blackberry versions rolling as well and while there may be apps beyond count in Apple’s store, there certainly isn’t yet in the blackberry world, where a heavy concentration of lawyers, in-house counsel and corporate clients reside.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Torys’ Chief Marketing Officer Stuart Wood earlier today and he made several points that solidified my thinking on this topic even further. Mr. Wood pointed out that the project was neither expensive nor particularly time-consuming, and will provide the firm with real data about usage and adoption rates, which they can then use to make better decisions about further iterations, supporting other platforms etc. He also reports that initial feedback from clients in the first week has been both significant and highly positive and is frequently coming directly from the clients to their own lawyers as opposed to marketing or firm management. Other firms’ I.T. departments are also calling their peers at Torys to find out more about the technical aspects. When the client is taking the initiative to make contact with your lawyers directly to congratulate you on a new marketing initiative and have a chat, and the competitors are calling to see how they can replicate what you’ve done, my money says the small investment in developing that free app has just paid for itself in spades.
Research in Motion has just announced a new hardware accessory that may be of interest to the legions of blackberry-addicted lawyers out there. The new device “the Blackberry Presenter” plugs directly into a projector and then lets you wirelessly deliver your powerpoint presentations directly from your blackberry. It could make sense for delivering presentations on the road when you don’t want to lug a laptop along but I can also see it being one more piece of equipment that simply lives in the law firm boardroom, potentially cutting down on that 10-minute pre-presentation cable kanoodling that we are all familiar with. It’s listed at Cdn $219.99 on blackberry’s official site. No word yet when it will actually be available – it’s simply reported as “coming soon” right now.