It’s hard to believe that the first law firm website was launched less than twenty years ago. According to a recent blog post by Robert Ambrogi, it was Venable, which launched the first law firm website in March 1994. Considered cutting edge at the time, law firm websites have since been joined by wikis, extranets, blogs and other forms of social media as part of the business development toolkit of large law firms. A recent report from Hubbard One (a Thomson Reuters business), Building Relationships with Global General Counsel, highlights the continuing importance of law firm websites as well as the use of newer social media tools.
The survey consisted of interviews with 40 General Counsel (GCs) worldwide. Ninety percent of the respondents were from US-based companies, two-thirds of which have international operations. Eight percent of the respondents were based in Europe and almost all respondents (95%) work in large private or public companies with annual revenues greater than US$500 million.
Not surprisingly, the two main factors that GCs say are important when selecting a law firm are the experience of the firm’s attorneys (33%) and the firm’s expert knowledge of the company’s sector or industry (31%). These two factors far outweigh competitive and/or flexible pricing (16%), not to mention brand reputation (9%) and efficiency/legal project management (7%).
There are numerous channels that allow firms to showcase their expertise including proposals, websites, newsletters and e-mail alerts. While the survey found that many GCs relied on proposals to assess the suitability of firms for a project when there was no clear choice of a firm to work with, websites are still important tools that GCs use to help them select firms.
Many interviewed GCs indicated that they visit the website of law firms they are considering working with once or twice per month. Though these visits may be as short and practical as looking at an attorney’s biography or finding relevant contact information, they leave a deep impression on the visitor. It is crucial that law firms have an up-to-date website with a constant stream of relevant and original material that is easy to access.
The survey also noted that clear and usable navigation (34%), relevant and valuable content (31%), and quick and easy searches (29%) were equally important for busy GCs. Of lesser value were interactive user experiences (2%) and visually attractive design (1%). As one GC interviewed said about the problem with poorly designed websites:
“Too much junk. No effective search. Just tell us who you are, where you are, who your lawyers are and what you’re really good at. The rest of the fluffy stuff is superfluous and should not clutter navigation bars, front pages or make it more difficult to find the important content.”
While GCs may not want a website that is too flashy, that doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate an up-to-date appearance. Branding and having a modern look are important, too.
Larger, often more corporate law firms have understood that “brand is as important [to them], as it is to Procter & Gamble, Nestle or anybody else.” Yet in other cases, GCs regularly see the type of “website [that] looks like it was made in 2005 and not appropriate for high-resolution modern screens,” which “just looks like they’re on the cheap side.”
In terms of the most often viewed sections of a firm website, survey respondents spent the most time looking at lawyer and staff profiles (combined score of 40%), followed by practice areas and service offerings (22%). GCs pay close attention to lawyer profiles, looking at a lawyer’s personal experience or prior legal work (combined score of 55%), their list of clients (21%), and what school they attended (11%).
E-Mail Alerts, Briefings, Whitepapers, Social Media
Beyond websites, GCs find that the most useful ways to receive information from law firms is from email alerts (33%), industry briefings/seminars (25%), industry reports/whitepapers (18%), and webinars (16%). Similar to websites, these communication channels are only useful to GCs when they are highly focused to meet a particular need. Extranets/portals, blogs and video, according to the survey, were underutilized but may become more important over time as GCs become more comfortable with these tools.
When it comes to sourcing information about or from law firms, blogs (35%) and LinkedIn (26%) are the most popular means used by interviewed GCs. Podcasts and video are used by 11% of GCs, while YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and SlideShare have limited appeal. More than two-thirds of respondents find “law firm engagement in social media ‘not very valuable,’ and a quarter ‘not valuable at all,’” indicating that firms might not be engaging correctly with social media. Firms appear to be slowly embracing the medium’s interactive nature, a topic that was covered in our interviews last month with lawyer Dan Goldman of the Mayo Clinic and Sarah Feingold, general counsel at Etsy. One GC who responded to the survey commented:
[Firms are] treating it as “an adjunct to their normal marketing strategy.” He explains: “So, if they win an award, they’ll tweet about it or put it on LinkedIn. But the interactive nature of social media which is supposed to make it what it is, no, I do not think that they have grasped the proper way to use it.”
Looking towards the future, GCs were asked what trends they thought would impact how they select, communicate and collaborate with law firms in the next three years. Relationship automation (e-billing being the most common form) was ranked as the top development, with cloud computing and online work collaboration in second place, and web intelligence (data analytics) in third.
Law firms are under heightened pressure to set themselves apart from competitors in order to improve their chances of winning work and retaining clients. GCs are increasingly expecting law firms to provide them with highly relevant information on a timely basis, using many different communication channels. Successful firms will not only provide targeted content on websites and via email alerts and newsletters, but will also be comfortable as an active participant on other social media platforms.
Posted by Marianne Purzycki