As I noted yesterday, ABA webmaster Fred Faulkner asked the question "Are You Ready for Local Search?" He makes the point that as local search tools become more utilized by the public, it becomes an absolute necessity for a law firm to have a web site.

Let me be dogmatic. Every law firm of every practice setting and size needs to have a website. This is actually the first time I’ve ever written that without any qualification. I’ve previously made allowances for the small town lawyer who only practices in one geographic area, those who rely mainly on court appointments, those who wish to practice part time and keep their overhead low, those who truly have more work than they can do or those who have only one or two core clients and aren’t seeking any more.

But as more and more people use online tools like local search in place of the phone book directory, it becomes clear that having no web presence makes about as much business sense as having an unlisted phone number for your law office. You need a website if for no other reason than you want to be found if someone types your name, city and state into Google local search or another search engine. It may be a client traveling who left your phone number back at the office, a potential client, an attorney who wants to contact you about a referral or a recently-divorced former high school sweetheart. Now with local search, we will see more searches for divorce lawyer in a certain city or Zip Code.

Certainly law firms representing consumer clients in matters like family law and bankruptcy have long needed websites for marketing. Larger law firms now all have websites. A website may not generate much new business or it may generate a lot, depending on many variables. But today, not having a website can lose the firm business. Many people now check a company’s website before doing business witht them just to see that they have one. Not having a website can mark a law firm as not being current in other areas.

(I recognize that those who are reading blogs or RSS newsfeeds probably are not those who have failed to create a firm website.)

You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a website. There are many reasonably priced hosting services. (Here’s one.) You don’t have to have constantly updated content, although that would certainly be more likely to bring visitors to your site.

Here are a few things that I think a law firm should have on its website:

  • A domain name. You need a name for your site that is not a sublink of another site. Some web hosting services will do this for you at little charge, but make sure that the domain name is registered with your name and contact information as the owner not your vendor. If you don’t have an idea of what domain name ot choose, just play around with versions of the lawyer or firm name, city or state and "law" or "lawyer" until you find a combination that is unused.
  • The names and contact info for all the attorneys, omitting e-mail addresses for those who do not regularly check e-mail.
  • A map to the office. Unless your office is on the main street of a very small town, you should have a printable map to your office with driving directions at the bottom. I’m surprised at how many professional web design firms omit this basic content.
  • Your practice areas. Whether you handle many different types of cases or few, people are looking for someone who handles their kind of matter. Don’t be embarrassed to use more than one term that mean the same thing. Some potential client may not know what some legal terms mean.

  • Flawlessly written content with no misspellings or poor grammar.

  • Simple, clear and serious content.

  • Appropriate disclaimers. A website is informational, not legal advice. You are only licensed in certain jurisdictions. The usual stuff.

  • Compliance with your state’s ethics rules. They may have specific provisions about websites.

  • Attractive pictures and graphic elements. You don’t have to go overboard here, but the Internet is a graphic media and you need some graphics. Take some pictures.

Don’t spend months perfecting the most ambitious website. Start simple and do it right. Make notes of what additional things you would like to do for the next version. Then add your web address to your stationery, your e-mail signature block and your business cards. Oh, yes, be sure and e-mail the link to the only other lawyer you know who doesn’t yet have a website!