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Catching Clients In Your Web (Site)

by Edd M. Schillay

Fifteen years ago my father said that the Internet and the World Wide Web were fads - that they would one day soon join the ranks of the beehive haircut and American cars with tail fins. Less than five years after that claim, he begged me to build a website for his business and was suing his former partner for using his name in a metatag in fear that potential clients searching the Internet for him would be directed elsewhere.

As I write this, he's away in New Mexico checking his email every few hours after making sure the hotel he booked had high-speed DSL in each room. So much for the fad theory. I use this example to make three points:

1. No matter how old you are, it's still fun to prove your father wrong;
2. The Internet and the Web are here to stay; and
3. The prospect of potential clients going elsewhere is worth going to war over.

Chances are, being an Immigration Daily reader, you already have a website for your firm. If you do, this article will help you evaluate the one you have and if you don't, this article will help you see what's important and why you should make it a priority to have one made for you.

It certainly seems like it. There are so many web design and publishing programs out there like Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and Adobe GoLive. There are even web hosting providers who will let you "fill in the blanks" to a choice of pre-designed templates. While those solutions appear to be easy to use and will have you generating simple sites in no time, to create the kind of site that would best market your firm as a professional operation, you need to go well beyond the basic functions of those programs.

I can't stress that point enough: hire somebody qualified to design and maintain your website. What you don't know CAN hurt you. Here's an example:

Let's say you're in the market for an accountant in New York and, as with most of your searches nowadays, it's easier to start typing keywords into Google than look up anyone in the yellow pages. After some quick keystrokes, you hit on some results.

For our example, Choice 1 will be Pulchin & Company -- and Choice 2 will be Margolin, Winer & Evens -- Click on both and be honest. First impression. Who would you turn to?

I apologize, Mr. Pulchin, but I must call them like I see them.

I bet Pulchin designed that one himself. If not him, then the kid who lives next door. The amazing thing is, if you read the page, he has a lot of interesting credentials and probably is a fantastic accountant. But, you don't care. One look at the oversized magnifying glass or the poorly-cropped photo against the white brick wall and you're not interested.

Not only is Mr. Pulchin wasting a web presence, but this site is most likely HURTING his business. How many times, during a phone conversation has a friend recommended someone to you and, either during that call or right after, you look up that person on the web? Imagine being told "My brother is in New York and he uses Pulchin & Company." A word-of-mouth referral that, after a quick search on the Web, will probably result in business going elsewhere.

It's possible that Mr. Pulchin is very happy, doing very well and has neither the desire nor the capacity to take on more business but I doubt it. And, before you say "I can design one better than that," ask yourself if you can design one as good as Choice 2. If the answer is no, then hire a professional.

A law firm is a business and like any other business it needs to be effectively marketed and sold to its potential customers. Very few people say "I need an attorney - one that went to Yale Law and a member of the American Bar Association." People want a lawyer who is going to help them and who has experience helping others. I know you're very proud of your degree and nobody will dispute how hard you worked to get it, but in the end, that's not what matters. What your potential clients do care about is the results you've accomplished and the kinds of cases you've worked on. Give the people what they want.

Imagine your spouse needs heart surgery. You call a doctor and he says "I went to Harvard Medical School." That's nice, doc, but have you ever done successful heart surgery? What's your track record? When was the last time you were in the O.R.?

Next time you're in the supermarket, check out the case of Diet Pepsi on the shelf. They don't use the words "Carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, etc." to sell you the soda. Instead, you see "Light. Crisp. Refreshing." Sure, the other stuff is there if you're looking for it, but you're not going to buy the soda because of it.

Let's say you never heard of Diet Pepsi and someone tells you that they tried it and they liked it. So, you go to the store to check it out. Would you be so quick to grab it if the packaging said only "Carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, etc."? Even after a word-of-mouth referral, the image you display can either make or break the business.

Make sure your site SELLS your staff, practice areas and everything about your firm. Everything on your site - every paragraph - should be done with marketing in mind.

The more you look at different web design companies, the more you see a lot of what I call "the Wow of the Web": Flash animation introductions, moving images, scrolling type, music and database-driven technology. It's easy to get carried away and want to have all of that associated with your firm.

But visitors to your site aren't shopping for a stereo.

Think about it for a moment: Most people who would search the web for an attorney are undergoing a very stressful moment in their lives. They're either hurt, mad, worried, dying, losing their family, going to jail or about to lose a lot of money. Face it; you don't hunt for a lawyer when everything is going well. While your site should look professional and calming, you don't want to waste someone's time with a lot of animations or a lot of menu choices.

The last impression you want to leave your potential client with is that you're going to waste their time. Instead, let them see that you can help them because you've helped others.

Your web designer should know the type of audience that your firm is selling to and know how to effectively create a site that sells to that audience. An experienced law firm site web designer will also do a lot of the work for you, knowing what is effective and what's not in terms of colors, graphics and use of text, leaving you to only fill in a few paragraphs and concentrate on running your practice.

Last, an experienced designer will know all of the latest techniques for getting you on the search engines. None will promise you results, but they have their successes and will work to do as well for your site.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words but I happen to believe a photo is worth a thousand dollars (in legal fees, of course.) Every attorney in your firm, or at least the partners, should have their picture on your web site. The picture personalizes the page and reminds the viewer that what they're reading is actually about a person. A photo makes you trustworthy - you're not hiding behind a bunch of words.

When taking the photo, keep your audience in mind. If you're aiming for big corporation clients, then break out the Armani suits, pick a neutral background and pose in such a way that you're a mighty force to be reckoned with should anyone get in your way. For general practice firms, I suggest a jacket and tie in front of the office library. Sometimes a radical approach will set you apart from the competition such as rolled-up sleeves at the desk and broad smiles - just try to convey the image you want to convey. BUT, you need to keep it consistent throughout the site.

Too many firms launch a site and leave it alone for months at a time. Instead, every time you get a good result or have something to say, get it posted. Work with your web designer on a monthly email newsletter, keeping your name in front of your client's eyes. If you have a specialized practice area, create a blog on a site like Blogger ( so that you can publish the latest news and goings on in that practice area - be known as the source of information about that topic.

Finally, don't let the design get stale. What looks good now won't be as nice a couple of years down the road. Plan a makeover every now and then so that when clients go back they're impressed all over again.

You probably started your practice with a few good clients that are also your good friends. Show them a few sample pages that your web designer has made up and get their opinions. Certain color schemes and layouts can be non-inviting and what you may like may not be the same as what your clients like and keep in mind that what your existing clients think will most likely be the same as what your potential clients will think. Use their opinions as a guide for the ultimate design of your site and you'll be on your way.

About The Author

Edd Schillay joined Mirsky & Block in 2001 as Manager of Operations, where he oversees office management, administration and the entire firm's IT needs. In addition, Edd handles all of the website design and maintenance for as well as for the firm's many website clients (,,,, etc.) Prior to joining Mirsky & Block, Edd co-owned a New York City-based court reporting firm and was founder of @tlantic enterprises, a website and Internet services company. Before that, Edd was an on-air personality named "Fast Eddie" on WSTK-AM and afterwards on New York City's WPLJ-FM (then known best as POWER 95.) For the past three years, Edd has been Commodore of the Eastchester Bay Yacht Racing Association where he also races, sometimes successfully, a C&C 34 sloop named the "Starship Enterprise."

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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