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Best Practice Tips: What Law Firms Must Do to Remain Competitive in the Internet Age

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the managing partner of a 12-attorney family law firm in Kansas City, Mo. We have been in practice for about 30 years. During the last 10 years we have shifted more of our advertising from print directories and advertising to the internet. Today virtually all of our work comes from the internet. While to some extent this has been a blessing, it has also been a curse as we must continue to make investments in search engine optimization, update the website, and pay to be included in online directories. It is a vicious circle and we are losing business to new attorneys who are just starting out, creating first-class websites, and making online investments.  I would appreciate your thoughts.

A. The internet, as well as advances in information technology, has and will continue to be the key driver forcing change in the legal marketplace, as well as other segments and our daily lives as well. Shopping malls are disappearing from our communities and department stores are struggling for survival. Being the king of the hill or the biggest is not the strategic advantage that it once was. The internet is leveling the playing field in many industries, as well as law firms.  There are new opportunities and competitors. Consider the following:

  • Everything is being commoditized. More practice areas are moving down the value curve and prices are becoming more price-sensitive.
  • Disintermediation of traditional delivery channels. The internet provides new access to information and is eliminating the middleman. It is impacting how we shop, bank, conduct business, and pay our credit cards and taxes. It is also impacting how clients locate and select lawyers and how legal services are delivered.
  • Our society is becoming – more and more – a DIY nation.
  • Lawyers’ competitors are just a click away, whether they be legal-process outsourcing providers (LPO) in India, other lawyers in your state, legal publishers, or online form providers.
  • New client opportunities for your firm may also be just a click away.

Challenges and Questions to Think About

  • How do you deal with commoditized transactions?
  • How do you tie yourself to your client in an online world?
  • How do you compete with new models and approaches to the delivery of legal services?
  • How do you compete with virtual law firms?
  • Would you consider adding an online delivery component to your traditional brick and mortar practice?
  • Should you consider other practice areas?
  • Should you consider expanding your geographical reach in areas where you are licensed and other areas by forming relationships with licensed attorneys in those areas?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • For your practice area you should continue what you are doing and maximize your online and electronic marketing investments.
  • Online reviews are becoming more and more important. Have a protocol in place that asks clients for reviews upon completion of their matter. Make it easy for them by providing them with appropriate online links.
  • Your website does not do enough to demonstrate expertise. I do not see any evidence of attorneys publishing any articles, serving on law-related committees, or chairing such committees pertaining to family law. There are no testimonials from past clients or others on the website. Get your attorneys writing articles, get them published where you can, and get them posted to your website. Get testimonials from past clients and referral sources, and post them to your website. Also, get your attorneys involved in bar and other law-related associations. Do more to build the brand of the firm and the individual attorneys. Many of my family law clients still receive a bulk of their business from past client referrals and referrals from other attorneys.
  • Consider satellite offices in some of the suburban communities in Missouri and Kansas. I have family law clients that have been quite successful with multiple offices – staffed and not staffed.

Even in the age of the internet, expertise, professionalism, and reputation are important. Do all you can to convey this through your website and your initial communications with clients.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.

Posted on October 31, 2018 by Rhys Saunders
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