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Updated June 26th, 2015

This is a summary of my Nov. 5 educational presentation at CAL-ABOTA’s annual conference at Turtle Bay on the gorgeous island of Oahu.

We discussed the following five points every law firm needs to know. Most need to implement all five. Some points may seem quite basic or even common knowledge, however most law firm websites do not incorporate at least two of the points below.

#1. Responsive Website Design

The Jist: Mobile device usage is rising for all income classes. If your website is not optimized for mobile devices your firm could be losing business.

What has 293 seats and over 375 color screens?  My Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330 from San Diego to Honolulu.

I bring this up as a figure to consider about mobile usage and how we can be connected almost anywhere. Even though every seat on this airplane has its own headrest screen, I counted at least 83 other devices in use.

Mobile Internet usage will exceed desktop in the near future. This surprises some – however, when you consider the facts that back it up, it is easy to understand why. The reason mobile usage is growing is socioeconomics and the size of income classes. 

83 people on my flight had an additional tablet or mobile screen to help the time pass on their journey to Oahu. But, at $50+ per month, lower-income households in the U.S. typically do not have high-speed home Internet access. According to a nationwide Pew Internet research poll, 40% of African American households and 50% of Hispanic households don’t have broadband Internet. These numbers are expected to increase, and here is why:

Modern mobile phones are really just small computers that make phone calls. Internet access is included in most plans, and the speed — even for the budget/prepaid carriers like Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile — is very acceptable, and improving.

While the iPhone and other Apple products may be considered luxury items, Samsung, LG and HTC products are frequently given away with cell phone contracts, and they have access to Google’s free Android platform and App store. This affordability for the masses helps us understand some of the reason for Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola: Give away the software first, then push your market penetration further by giving away the phone.

If your firm represents “consumers” or medium to low-income clients, this is a major reason to have your website built in a “responsive” format.

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As for the wealthier Americans who can afford an iPhone and have disposable income to enjoy a tablet — like the 83 passengers on my Hawaii flight — the Internet is also all around them.

Stats show that 77% of users will use a tablet or mobile phone at home even when a desktop or laptop is available with a high-speed connection. While watching ESPN, they may be browsing the web on their mobile phone. It’s their “first” device and the go-to gadget.

For this reason, if a person hears your firm name just about anywhere and has a touch of curiosity, be assured they can find your website in less than 30 seconds. If the site is not mobile optimized, it could be a negative experience. It would be like test driving a new Mercedes and learning that anti-lock brakes are not offered. Lawyers should have good websites, just like a Benz has good brakes.

If your firm typically represents businesses instead of individuals, all of this doesn’t let you off the hook. Your clients are doubtlessly still mobile users, and more and more companies are looking at smaller firms to compare prices, according to a Wall Street Journal article last month.

Don’t let something as simple as not having responsive site hold your firm back. There is no need to redesign, rewrite, rebrand or change anythingA responsive website takes no feedback on your part if you don’t want it to; it can be all programming. 

My 5.5-hour Hawaiian Airlines flight included 276 coach seats and 17 first class seats. Here’s what I observed in my walk-though during hour 3:

Passengers kept themselves busy with:

  • 38 tablets (mostly the more expensive iPad)
  • 14 e-readers
  • 18 laptops
  • 12 cell phones
  • and 7 infants (all of which were wonderful and slept)

#2. Take Good Photos. Here’s How To Do It Best.

The Jist: If your website has stock photography and outdated images of your lawyers, taking your own photos will improve the site’s appearance and save money.

People love photos, and the Internet is a visual medium, so embrace it. Since the Internet brings us amazing photos from around the world, people’s expectations of photo quality have increased.

Here’s the inside scope on how to do it right:

Photographers are everywhere (particularly when it isn’t wedding season), and hiring one to spend a Friday afternoon taking photos can be quite affordable. Once a photographer is found and a rate is agreed upon, be sure there are no annual royalties and that the firm owns all pictures. Agree to a selection of photos you would like touched up in Photoshop. You should have a minimum of TWO for each staff member and at least 10 other varying group shots. Founding partners; Partners; Partners and associates; whole team, and so on. And be open and welcome suggestions from the staff.

Important: Plan ahead and give your team at least a week’s notice. Ladies like to have their hair done, and be sure none of the guys are looking too shaggy.

Take pictures around the office while sitting, standing, working behind desks and in the client-facing areas. Tell everyone they are going to have a good time and, if you lead with a positive attitude, they will. If your office is slick visually, definitely show it off. Stage the shots with plants and paintings. Move pictures around if needed. Tell that young associate to get his hand out of his pocket and flash an “I love my clients” smile.

Natural light does wonders compared to fluorescent office bulbs, so if the weather is permitting, take the team outside to a nearby park, courthouse, museum or even a marina, if possible. If you have access to a private airport or a large boat, a picture near an airplane or yacht is always cool.

Associates and short-term employees need consideration. As associates may not remain employed for the long term, so use caution when including them in photos with partners. If making a large group photo, place associates or any short–term employees to the outside or the very back so they can be Photoshopped out of the picture eventually if needed. Depending on your own office policies, consider having an agreement drafted that all photos are firm property and may continue to be used even if employment is terminated.

Get your money’s worth out of the photographer! These days the pictures are digital, so there should be no “I’m running out of film” issues.

Using your own photos will ensure that your firm image is unique and that you never violate image royalty agreements, which can cost several hundred or even thousands of dollars.

Should you or someone in the office have photography as a hobby, this is greatly encouraged as long as the person has adequate experience and the equipment is legit — meaning it’s a Canon, Nikon or similar.

Lastly, don’t use an iPhone. Smartphone cameras are best for cute grandchildren moments and snapshoting your parking space when taking them Disneyland.

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#3. Use a Hosted Website Chat

The Jist: Having a hosted website chat service can generate more leads, and it requires no additional support from you or your staff.  Fees are reasonable and there are no long-term contracts. Ngage and Apex are both great choices.

Here is a business that is just knocking it out of the park: hosted web chats for lawyers. I have tremendous respect for the entrepreneurs who saw this coming and have created a solution that clearly generates business a firm may not otherwise receive.

A hosted web chat platform works by having a chat window screen that automatically pops up in 15-30 seconds after a user arrives at your website. The user may also click a “Chat Now” button and begin immediately.

The “host” or operator will establish communication through a friendly introduction and make the user feel welcome. None of your office staff is required to use the program. If you’re struggling to visualize this whole chat scenario, here’s a screenshot.

The initial inquiry will be something like: “Please tell me more about your situation.” Once the user responds with some details, the standard procedure is to inform the user that they are sorry about the situation and the attorney who can assist is not available at the moment. The person is asked for their phone number so the attorney may contact them as soon as the attorney is available.

At no time is anything that could be considered legal advice offered.

Operators will typically spend as much time as it takes to get relevant information and the contact info, and will  then politely exit the chat window if the user has no further questions. The chats are then emailed to the directly to the firm to be followed up on.

Overall, we have seen an increase in conversions from the use of chat. While some who use the chat may have still contacted your firm if the chat was not an option, the benefit is that the chat captures those who may have otherwise decided to back out of the website and consider browsing other law firms. This also give the user an alternate medium to research and contact a lawyer but should they be at work or unable to use the phone with privacy.

Obu has found success with Apex Chat and Ngage Legal. Cost ranges from Apex’s affordable $15-$20 per chat price to Ngage’s heftier $35 per chat. Ngage has been a leader and provided the best consistency over the years, however Apex’s service has improved dramatically as of this June 2015 update it’s a close race.

Chats can be considered “qualified leads” by falling into the geographic area of the law firm and an inquiry for relevant services in a firm’s practice areas.  Both companies use an honor system for credits, including duplicates, existing clients and most other chats as the client requests.

The firms that should be using live chat are those that are already marketing their websites. Simply adding a chat to a website that is not getting traffic won’t help much. Think of chat as another fishing pole in a well-stocked lake; if your website has no fish swimming in it, it doesn’t matter how many hooks you throw in.

#4. The Only Social Media Site You Need to Think About – Google+

The Jist:  Google will make sure Google+ is relevant by including its use in their organic search algorithm. The number of Google+ users is small, and now is the time to get on board and ahead of everyone else.

I have never been more convinced that Google literally controls it all.  Here are some, but not all, of the reasons why Google+ is more important than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and every other social media app:

  • People don’t go to Facebook to check their email. They go to Gmail.
  • Where are videos watched? YouTube. Who owns YouTube? Google.
  • “I Googled it” is synonymous with searching. (Does anyone “Bing it?”)
  • The most popular browser in the U.S. is Google Chrome, according to the latest W3c numbers.

You can be sure Google+ accounts will rank above LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook pages when someone searches for your firm on Google. To make sure their social network is embraced, Google has made establishing and using a Google+ account a Top 5 ranking factor.

The good news: It is still very early.  The number of firms using Google+ is very low, and the number actually using it effectively is even smaller.

For more information Google+ and its effect on search, check out this post.

2015 Update: Google+ never quite made it off the ground, however it is not gone for those that want to have search ranking.  Many of the top ranking law firms are still active on Google+.

#5. Reviews Rock

The Jist: Reviews are the second-highest deciding factor when someone hires a lawyer. They are easy to get, and below are a few tips.

calabota-R118You may be an ABOTA member, and while that distinction has been rightfully earned, the public has no idea what it means, unfortunately. Simply adding a logo to your bio page or website won’t suffice. There are too many legal associations, and their logos are ubiquitous. Most ordinary people haven’t heard of them.

But reviews written by clients are very simple to understand, and they matters a lot to people reading up on your firm.

From sushi to smog stations, reviews have changed the way we select who earns our business. But, unlike a restaurant, getting good reviews hasn’t been a priority for most law firms.  Interestingly enough, according to our friends at AttorneySync, a poll of 1,200 adults shows that reviews are the second most important consideration when hiring a lawyer.  Among people 24 to 35, it is the most important.

So, once again, here’s an opportunity to be ahead of the game in something that matters.

How do you get reviews? Most any case management software has contact information of all clients, including their email addresses. By exporting these contacts and uploading them into a system such as Constant Contact or MailChimp—way easier than it sounds— a law firm can easily get reviews.

Simply email and ask clients if they maintain Yelp, Gmail or other accounts. Include a link to your firm’s page on Yelp or in Gmail (hopefully Google+) and ask for a positive review if they are satisfied with your work.

Better yet, filter through a short list identifying your top 15 clients and personally call each to ask for a review and let them know to expect an email with instructions from your assistant. The conversion rate—the number of people who write a review out of the 15 contacted—will be high.  (Especially if you have those fresh new photos from your photo shoot uploaded to the firm’s review page.)

Another option is using Avvo, which is basically Yelp for lawyers.  Avvo does get a lot of web traffic and covers a variety of legal topics. People often hit the site when they are in “research phase” trying to understand the law and how it may apply to their case. While Avvo is best reserved for firms that represent individuals, including family and criminal law, having good reviews and a good reputation wherever a new client may roam the web is best.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this post, I said that most likely there would be at least two areas most firms are not adequately covering from the five above. To rank them in terms of importance seems unnecessary, but I can say that having a responsive website is at the top of the list. Without a responsive website, your internet presence suffers.

The end of the year is coming, and it’s a great time to ask your web company for a deal to keep them busy through the holidays and to welcome 2014 with plenty of work.

Mahalo!

Landon

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