As it does every year, from May through October of 2018, the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center conducted its Legal Technology Survey Report on the use of technology in the legal profession. The 2018 Survey was delivered electronically to close to 4,000 ABA members in private practice in the US and included firms of all sizes.
Respondents to the portion of the 2018 Survey that covers websites and law firm marketing consisted largely of solos (42%) and firms of 2-9 attorneys (32%), followed by 12% at firms of 10-49 attorneys, and 14% at firms of 50+ lawyers. The average age of all respondents was 54 years of age, and on average, respondents have been admitted to the bar for 25 years.
This article will examine some of the trends in law firm websites and marketing based on the responses over the past several years. In past years, my TECHREPORT article has focused specifically on lawyer blogs and social media. This year, while I will comment on blogging and social media trends, I’ll focus more on lawyer websites and other marketing trends.
The internet can help to level the playing field significantly, allowing smaller firms and solos to compete for business that, in the past, would only go to larger firms. Solo practitioners and small firms who get on board with a good internet marketing strategy still have an opportunity to use the internet to stand out and to differentiate themselves. But based on the 2018 Survey results, a significant number of solo and small firms are not taking advantage of this opportunity.
Law Firm Websites
Overall, 77% of respondents report that their firms have websites. This represents a drop over the past three years when over 84% of respondents overall reported their firm had a website.
The likelihood that a firm will have a website varies significantly based on the size of the firm. Solos are the least likely to have a website at only 55%. By contrast, 100% of firms with 50+ lawyers, 97% of firms with 10-49 lawyers, and 89% of firms with 2-9 lawyers reported that their firms had a site.
Visibility Online Is Crucial
By failing to establish a website, solos are missing a crucial business development tool. Even with a word-of-mouth referral, many clients will turn to Google for information before contacting a lawyer. Whether they are also searching for other lawyers in the area that also practice the same kind of law or not, if those potential clients turn to Google and do not find the lawyer, they may very well find—and contact—a competitor.
In some cases, the potential client may use the internet to search for information before they hire a lawyer. In those cases, the potential client isn’t looking for a lawyer per se, but imagine that, during their search, the potential client lands on a law firm website that answers the very question they were asking and demonstrates the firm or lawyer’s extensive knowledge of the practice area. Which lawyer do you think the client is likely to all first when they are ready to seek the advice of a lawyer?
With an increasing number of lawyers available for clients to choose from, lawyers need to differentiate themselves, which often requires establishing their expertise in a particular niche field, an area of practice or industry, or with a particular audience or group of people. There is increased competition for work, not only from other lawyers but also from the proliferation of non-lawyer online options potential clients may use to avoid hiring a lawyer in the first place.
Lawyers who have relevant, valuable, meaningful content available not only about themselves and their firms, but about their clients and their clients’ problems, challenges, and industries are much more likely to get the attention of the potential client and get that potential client to pick up the telephone and schedule an appointment than lawyers who have little or no information available them online.
Solos and small firms that still do not have a web presence and a website with their own domain name are not taking advantage of the power of the internet to build their practice. While many of these lawyers undoubtedly have some internet presence on other sites such as Avvo, Facebook, or LinkedIn, it is important for lawyers to have an internet presence that they control and content that they own. Who knows what will happen to these platforms in the future? If your law firm content and information reside only on these platforms, you’re taking an unnecessary risk.
Who Does the Work on Law Firm Websites?
Not only does size have an impact on whether a firm has a website, but it also dictates who manages and creates content for the site. Almost a third of respondents reported that the firm’s website was primarily managed by one lawyer in the firm, as opposed to an outside provider or consultant (23%), firm marketing staff (14%), an office manager/ administrator (9%) or others.
Not surprisingly, solo attorneys and respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys are more likely than respondents from other firm sizes to report that their firms’ websites are primarily managed by one lawyer in the firm (51% and 35% respectively). These numbers have held steady since 2015.
Respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys are the most likely to report that firm marketing staff manages their firms’ websites (41%), followed by firm technology staff (15%), and firm webmasters (12%). Attorneys from large firms were also most likely to report that they did not know who manages their firm’s website; 29% of respondents from firms of 100+attorneys report that they do not know who manages their firms’ websites, followed by 11% from firms of 10-49 attorneys.
Many firms, regardless of size, rely on a single attorney to carry the load of content creation for the firm’s website; 39% of respondents overall reported that one lawyer in the firm creates the content for the site, up from 2015 when 24% reported only one attorney created firm website content. Another 30% of respondents’ website content is created by an outside provider or consultant. The remainder reported content was created either by more than one attorney in the firm (26%) or firm marketing staff (20%).
Once again, and similar to previous years, the majority of solos rely on themselves (63%) to create content for their website, or they outsource to outside consultants or providers (37%). Respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys are almost evenly split between relying on one lawyer in their firm (37%), an outside consultant or provider (35%), and more than one lawyer in their firm (29%).
Firms of 10-49 attorneys most often rely on multiple lawyers in the firm to create content (39%), but this has declined over the past four years, from a high of 63% in 2016. Others carrying the load from these firms include firm marketing staff (36%), followed by an office manager/administrator (29%), and one lawyer in their firm (23%).
Respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys most often report that their firms rely on firm marketing staff for website content creation (89%), followed by more than one lawyer in the firm (62%) and firm technology staff (23%).
Seventy-three percent of respondents did not hire an outside agency or consultant to help them with SEO, social media, or AdWords and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns. The ones that did were most likely to hire for SEO (23%) and social media (14%). Few firms are using consultants for Google AdWords or PPC advertising.
Even fewer firms are syndicating content from the firm’s website to other websites, publications, or social networks. Overall, only 15% of firms syndicate website content. Firms of 100+attorneys are most likely to syndicate content (24%). In firms of all other sizes, less than 20% syndicate content.
Tips for Developing a Website and Content Strategy
With the amount of content being created and posted on the internet every single day, it is more important than ever for lawyers to develop and implement a content strategy for their firm to ensure that quality content is being created and posted consistently.
Simply put, these days, it is common for potential clients to want to see some evidence of the lawyer’s expertise before contacting the lawyer. Lawyers who simply state on their websites that they have expertise or knowledge in a specific area are going to be at a disadvantage when compared to attorneys who demonstrate that expertise with articles, video, and other content that shows that they are not only proficient in their area of the law, but that they understand the issues their clients face on a daily basis.
Content marketing can help humanize a lawyer, show that they have a point of view, and give potential clients a taste of what working with a particular lawyer might be like. It is an opportunity to become a trusted authority and a resource for information or perspective on a particular topic. But that content should be original (or have original elements and commentary), relevant, and current.
Since solo and small firm lawyers consistently rely on only one lawyer to create the content, admittedly, this can be a challenge. These lawyers typically wear many hats, not only managing their website and other marketing and creating content for it but also practicing law and serving clients. While outsourcing content creation the way many of the larger firms do may help by freeing up the lawyer to focus on other things, there are drawbacks to allowing others to create content.
First, outside companies may not know the firm’s vision and clients. They may not be lawyers themselves, may not understand the law or legal concepts or be familiar with the nuances of practice in the specific jurisdiction, and may not be aware of the special ethical rules that lawyers must abide by. In addition, when content is created by a third party, it can create a disconnect between the reader and the firm if the reader does contact the firm.
For example, let’s assume content is created by a third party and managed by a non-lawyer staff person within the firm. Even if the content is legally correct, if the lawyers are not familiar with the content contained on their site (because they haven’t written or reviewed it themselves), it can create an awkward moment with a client or potential client who asks a question about something they saw on the site. This is particularly true in the case of solos and small firms. Similarly, the “voice” created by the content on a law firm website helps to form the client’s expectation about what the experience of working with the firm and its lawyers will be like. If the client’s experience with the firm is not in line with those expectations, it places tension on the lawyer-client relationship.
Many solo and small firm attorneys do not create content or have a website because they are not sure what to write or believe it will be too time-consuming or expensive. Here are just a few ideas that might help:
- Create content in batches; set aside time to write a number of posts or articles at once and then schedule them to post in the future.
- Write a long piece and break it up into several shorter posts to publish in a series online.
- Don’t have time to batch or write long pieces? Schedule short blocks of time—even 15-minute increments—to develop content. A few paragraphs can be a blog post, or 15 minutes spent answering one or two common client questions could contribute to a website FAQ section.
- Repurpose content you already have. For example:
- Take CLE materials and turn different sections into several articles on your site or turn your PowerPoint into a video
- Pull out an explanation of the law from a client status report and turn it into a blog post or short article
- Take the list of documents you request from clients to prepare their estate plan and turn it into a checklist to post on your website
Online Services Offered
Law firm websites have gradually begun changing, from purely marketing or promotional tools that generate new client leads and help convince potential clients to contact the law firm for a consultation to tools that help deliver services to clients. In addition, there has been a proliferation of online platforms that allow lawyers to provide additional services to clients over the internet, if not necessarily on their own websites. The 2018 Survey explored some of these areas as well.
Secure Client Portals
Most lawyers hate when clients call and ask them the same questions over and over, or when clients are impatient and want answers immediately, even if the lawyer is in court or otherwise unavailable. But a client waiting for a response has the potential to become a dissatisfied client very quickly.
One of the most powerful—and under-utilized according to the 2018 Survey—online tools is a secure client portal. Secure client portals can be used for consultations, host fillable forms to make intake and other information-gathering easier both for the firm and for clients, and offer document creation and sharing tools. Portals can also take the place of email to provide messages or status updates for clients, schedule appointments, and make invoicing and bill payment easy.
The advantages of using a secure client portal include peace of mind that client and firm data will be securely stored and shared with clients, and it saves time and reduces frustration by providing clients with access to information anytime, anywhere they have an internet connection. It reduces phone calls and phone tag with lawyers and creates a single place for all client documentation and communication—since everything is stored in one place, neither firm nor client has to worry about cobbling together information from email, snail mail, and various other programs.
Respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys are the most likely to report offering clients access to a secure client portal (59%), in contrast to 8% from solo firms, 11% from firms of 10-49 attorneys, and 21% from firms of 2-9 attorneys. Of those that provide a secure client portal, SharePoint is the most popular, at 24%, followed by Clio at 17%, and 9% each for MyCase, Box, or a custom solution.
Other Online Services
Even without a secure client portal as a hub on the firm’s website, lawyers are offering other online services to clients. Most popular among these services are messaging or communication services, document sharing, and invoicing and/or bill payment services. Among those, invoicing and online bill payment has seen the most growth since 2015, from 18% to 30% in 2018.
Once again, larger firms are more likely to report the use of these online tools. For example, 76% of firms with 100+ attorneys report offering document sharing, while less than 40% of firms of other sizes offer it, including only about a third of attorneys in firms of 2-9 lawyers and 18% of solos.
Other tools provide an easy way to generate leads, obtain information from clients and potential clients, and streamline the intake process. Calendaring software that allows leads to schedule an initial consultation directly or complete intake forms online can get clients in the door faster and easier, while also ensuring that the attorney has all of the information they need before the consult takes place.
Most firms are not only not taking advantage of these tools, but 71% do not have a formal intake process. Once again, the largest firms are most likely to do so, at 43%, followed by 39% from firms of 2-9 lawyers, 37% from firms of 10-49 lawyers, and 16% of solo attorneys. Of firms that currently utilize a formal lead intake process, 22% use specialized intake software.
Based on the 2018 Survey, the majority of firms with less than 100 lawyers are not offering any of these online services to clients despite the explosion in the use of mobile devices that clients carry with them all of the time. The slow rate of adoption of these kinds of online services may be attributable to several factors, including the typical resistance shown by attorneys to change, concern over security and confidentiality of firm and client data, confusion over the many available options, and compatibility with legacy firm systems.
Offering these kinds of services online can represent savings for the firm by freeing up resources, including staff and attorney time, and simultaneously increasing client satisfaction. This represents another huge opportunity for smaller firms.
Legal Blogs and Social Media
In 2018, 24% of firms reported having a blog, down from a high of 31% in 2017. Of those that do maintain a blog, 55% update it monthly, followed by 9% weekly. No respondents reported that the firm updated its blog daily.
Similar to the number of firms that maintain a website, 76% of respondents report that their firms maintained a presence in online communities or social networks. This number has remained steady since 2015.
Overall, 36% of respondents’ firms maintain a presence on Avvo, but usage is skewed toward smaller firms; Avvo is most likely to be used by solos (47%) and small firms of less than 10 lawyers (40%). More than 75% of lawyers in firms with 10+ lawyers said their firm does not use Avvo.
Use of Facebook is up slightly to 63% this year after being between 56-58% in the previous three years. Twitter use among firms is still uncommon; only 14% of respondents reported that their firms maintained a presence on Twitter. Use of Martindale also dropped from 41% in 2016 to 31% in 2018.
As noted in last year’s TECHREPORT, LinkedIn use by law firms has been declining since 2015 when 93% of lawyers reported the use of LinkedIn. Even so, firm use of LinkedIn still exceeds every other platform.
Use of social media by individual lawyers for professional purposes remains strong, with 79% of respondents reporting that they use one or more social networks for professional purposes. Here LinkedIn far outranks the other platforms—overall, 82% of all respondents are using LinkedIn themselves for professional purposes, as compared to 47% on Facebook, 27% on Avvo, and far fewer on the other platforms surveyed.
Smaller firm lawyers are more likely to use Facebook for professional purposes; solo lawyers reported Facebook usage for professional purposes at 59%, followed by lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers at 49%, and only 26% of lawyers in firms with 10+ lawyers. It may be that the difference is attributable to the higher percentage of solo and small firm lawyers with business to consumer, rather than business to business, practices.
Thirty-three percent of respondents overall have claimed their Avvo profile, similar to past years. Respondents from firms of 2-9 are the most likely to claim their Avvo profile (44%), followed by 31% each of solo respondents and respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers. Only 10% of respondents from firms of 100+ have done so.
Most individual lawyers using social networks for professional reasons do so for the purpose of networking or career development, followed by client development, education, and current awareness.
Overall, 35% of respondents who use social media for professional purposes have been rewarded with clients as a result, either directly or through a referral. Another 19% did not know whether their social media use resulted in clients. Firms of 2-9 attorneys have the best track record for gaining clients through social media use, at 42%. Firms of 100+ attorneys are less successful—only 15% reported retaining a client as a result of social media use.
Lawyers should keep in mind that retention of clients is not the only benefit of participating in social media for professional purposes. Lawyers not currently using these tools might consider joining and participating in one or more social networks to expand their reach, gain visibility, drive traffic to the firm’s website, make media contacts, get speaking engagements, and more.
Law Firm Marketing Trends
What Channels Do Lawyers Use for Marketing?
Overall, the most popular channels are Facebook (35%) and email (33%), followed by print (25%) and Avvo (20%). Smaller firms rely most on electronic marketing, especially Facebook.
Use of print is declining, although a quarter of firms still rely on print for their marketing (down from 34% last year). Interestingly, firms from 2-9 attorneys (28%) and those of 100+ lawyers (27%) were most likely to rely on print as one of their main marketing channels.
Solo respondents are most likely to report Facebook (33%), email (28%), and Avvo (26%) as the channels used for marketing. Respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys report Facebook (52%) and print (28%) as the channels most used. Respondents from firms of 10-49 report email (54%) and direct mail (36%), and respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys report email (37%) and print (27%) as the channels most used by their firms to market itself.
Despite the number of firms that are using the marketing tools discussed here, overall, only 33% of respondents’ firms have an annual marketing budget. Respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys are most likely to report having a marketing budget (84%), followed by firms of 10-49 (40%), 2-9 (39%), and solo firms (12%). This is another indication that law firms—and solos in particular—need to spend time developing a marketing strategy, including setting goals, identifying targets, and building budgets to accomplish their marketing goals.
Of those firms that do have a marketing budget, 41% report their firms’ budget has increased, 7% report the budget has decreased, and 32% report that their budget has stayed the same since last year. 20% report that they do not know.
Overall, 45% of respondents will place the same emphasis on marketing next year as in the previous year, while 34% will place more emphasis on marketing, and only 4% will place less emphasis on marketing in the coming year.
Consistent with responses about managing firm websites and creating content, over half of respondents (55%) report that attorneys in the firm handle marketing themselves, while only 19% rely on dedicated internal marketing staff. Another 12% report using external marketing consultants, and 11% report that administrative staff are primarily responsible for the firm’s marketing. 19% of respondents report that no one is handling the firm’s marketing.
Respondents from firms of 100+ attorney are most likely to report that dedicated internal marketing staff handles marketing for their firm (84%). As the number of lawyers in the firm declines, so too does the likelihood that the firm has internal marketing staff doing their marketing. Firms of 10-49 attorneys are most likely to report their marketing is handled by administrative staff (24%) followed by 16% of respondents from firms of 2-9 lawyers.
Nineteen percent from firms of 100+ attorneys report their marketing is handled by external marketing consultant(s), followed by 18% of respondents from firms of 10-49 attorneys, 12% of respondents from firms of 2-9, and 9% of solo respondents.
Based on the 2018 Survey responses, lawyers are not taking advantage of analytics or reports to determine the effectiveness of their marketing initiatives. Many respondents do not have access to web analytics to monitor traffic (keeping in mind that the attorneys responding may not be those responsible for this task in their firm, or the firm may be relying on marketing staff internally to view and report on these analytics). Of those that have access to analytics, over a third said they never review these analytics, and another third view them only quarterly. Of those working with external agencies on marketing, 15% are not provided with any regular reports.
Based on these statistics, it is not surprising that when asked how confident respondents were that their firm’s marketing was effective, 27% reported they were “not at all confident” and only 5% were “very confident” in their marketing’s effectiveness. On average, respondents rated confidence in their firm’s marketing at 2.5 on a 5-point scale.
This year’s TECHREPORT responses on websites and legal marketing provide several key insights or areas of improvement, particularly for solo and small firm lawyers.
While roughly 75% of firms maintain a website and have some kind of online presence on social media or other online communities, much of the work being done online is performed by either one lawyer within the firm or by non-lawyer staff or consultants. A disproportionate number of solos have no website at all, although many are using other online platforms, leaving their content and communication vulnerable to the whims of these other platforms.
While many firms have access to analytics or reporting that would provide insights into the effectiveness of their online marketing activity, few lawyers are using or maximizing their use of these tools.
To compete in an ever more competitive legal market, lawyers need to place more emphasis on creating their own branded web presence and ensuring that the firm’s management and those who will come into contact with clients are familiar with the content on the site, who is managing the site, and whether the site is performing as expected.
Online services, whether through a secure client portal connected to the firm’s website or offered separately, are available in abundance, but close to 70% of lawyers are not using any of these tools, representing another underutilized area to be explored.
All in all, the 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report shows that there are many opportunities available for lawyers willing to try something new with their marketing and client communication.