A good presence on the web is a no-brainer

After having spent several weeks trawling through law firm websites and partner profiles, engaged on various research projects, I remain quite mystified by some lawyers’ attitude to the fabric of their own business.

It’s not as if it’s that difficult to come up with a list of the deals or cases you have worked on, get it tarted up by your marketing department (or a consultant if you don’t have one) and create a sensible web-presence for you or your department. I’m not asking you to tweet your thoughts from a rainy platform in Chelmsford at 6.15am or commit to the wearisome grind of maintaining a live Facebook profile.

But accessing a partner profile in this day and age and finding three lines of non-descript copy with no clue as to experience or clients acted for is just plain daft. Beyond the profile on the firm site, a huge number of partners have little or no presence elsewhere on the web, such as a profile on Linked-In for instance.

Before you start with excuses, they’re all rubbish. Let me elucidate.

The first is the hoary old chestnut of the best business coming via recommendation. This has the virtue of being true, but consider this enhancement to the adage: perhaps the contact recommending you has mentioned two lawyers, you and one of your rivals, neither of which the prospective client has heard of. Our man does what everyone does these days and uses Google (or another reputable search engine) and finds your desultory three lines of nothing on your firm’s site, and zip elsewhere. They do the same for your rival and find a list of recent deals, along with client names, and a chunky description of what they do, along, perhaps, with a few links to articles and press releases, and a Linked-In profile groaning with testimonials from people-like-them.

Now, who is our potential client going to pick up the phone to? I know who I’d be heading for, and I certainly wouldn’t waste my time canvassing Mr Light-Under-A-Bushel who seemingly can’t be bothered to save my valuable time by giving me a quick run-down of his experience, something I can forward to a colleague who might also be making the decision with me.

The second piece of nonsense is that you need to protect clients by not mentioning their name, and are simply forbidden to mention particular deals. This is very true for some lawyers (matrimonial, for a start), but complete hogwash for most. If you’re a corporate lawyer, your deals may already be in the public domain along with listed advisers, on a site such as Mergermarket. If you’re a litigator and the cases go to court, they’re already in the public domain, regardless of how sensitive they may be. Many a property lawyer has moaned to me that their connection to such-and-such a deal doesn’t see the light of day, yet the surveyors have blasted the same deal all over the property press.

As to simply mentioning client names in connection with yours, chances are your clients will be happy to say ‘yes’ when you ask permission. Some firms even ask for blanket permission to use the client’s name generically, on confirmation of the first instruction. However you may feel about it personally, your competitors may feel differently, and if you stolidly refuse to bend on this issue, you are losing out.

Bluntly, you’ll never know the calls you don’t get, the shortlists you don’t make because your sensibility is rooted in 1913 rather than 2013.

These days, like it or not, your window to the world is the internet, and your presence on reputable sites – your firm’s website, Linked-In – needs to reflect as fully as possible what you have to offer.

I have sat in meeting after meeting after meeting with partners whose golden run in their law firm has come to a rude end as they have been de-equitised or simply asked to leave. They are more often than not the kind of people who deny what I have been saying above, who don’t like to ask their clients permission to use their names, who wouldn’t dream of securing permission ahead of a deal, who think marketing is a grubby, unlawyerly thing to do. They are the people who have signally failed to connect with the business underlying their practice of law, and they have paid a terrible price for not getting with the programme.

And the strangest thing of all it is that it is so EASY, and once done, needs only the most cursory attention to keep it up to date. Your firm website is a good start, a way to be able to flex your marketing muscles in a nice, safe environment, with support from marketing professionals. But don’t neglect the possibilities of third-party sites. Linked-In is probably the foremost among these, and offers a wealth of opportunity to not only display your wares but to validate them with testimonials and endorsements from colleagues and clients, who you can also endorse, which is a great way of cementing professional relationships and re-engaging with clients and peers you might have lost touch with. The site also allows you to upload links to documents, putting your viewers in touch with articles you’ve written and so forth, and will also tell you who has been viewing your profile recently, which again gives you a great excuse to get in touch with people.

As I say, you never know the business you don’t get. And I don’t believe there is a single lawyer out there who hasn’t thought at least once “why didn’t I get that case/deal/instruction?” when a juicy piece of work goes off to a rival.

Spending half an hour on your shop window to the world could be the best 30 minutes you’ve ever spent.

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