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Law firm websites: Does any law firm believe they’re key to business development?

The Snark at the Fulton County Daily Report, an Atlanta legal newspaper, is having a tongue in cheek contest about the best large law firm websites. It’s a parody of the real contests on the best law firm websites.

A parody here, but it seems strange that law firm marketing professionals even discuss which law firm websites are better for marketing and business development.

I was speaking with a law firm Chief Marketing Officer this week about what his group was working on. He talked of adding new business development professionals, working with lawyers on what they need to keep in mind in their business development efforts, and particular efforts underway to build relationships with people in certain industry segments.

At the end of our talk, he mentioned they were also doing an upgrade to their website. I asked if he expected the website to generate any business for the firm. He responded “Of course not, but the site’s important for providing info on the lawyers, practice groups, the firm, the industries it represents, the type of work it does, and full contact info for all professionals in the firm.”

Though legal marketing professionals talk of the importance of law firm websites for business development, I’ve never had a managing partner, executive committee member, or CMO (the people charged with making sure the firm is doing well business wise) talk of the importance of a law firm website in developing business. More than one managing partner has told me they don’t believe any business has been developed from their website.

The reason? Law firm websites are great. They are what they are. They provide helpful background info on the firm and its lawyers, much like a brochure would. Enough said.

I don’t buy the “Our website goes far beyond brochure-ware. It does so much more with its updates, articles, blogs built into the site (as opposed to blogs independent of the website), news center, and forums.” I also don’t buy cool design and branding makes our website work for business development.

Your clients, prospective clients, referral sources, and the influencers of those three (bloggers, reporters, association leaders, publishers, conference coordinators etc) are not coming to your website for great legal info, insight, and commentary. It’s not how they consume legal information and commentary and you’ll not break their habits no matter how hard you try.

Law firm leaders know that business is developed from relationships. Relationships established by engaging your target audience. Engagement that takes place by listening to conversations your target audience is participating in or listening to. Engagement by taking part in those conversations by offering value to the conversation, as opposed to shouting content at people.

This sort of networking to nurture existing business relationships as well as to establish and grow new relationships is what law firm business development is all about. Always has been.

As practicing lawyers we engaged our target audience, built relationships, and built a word of mouth reputation as a good lawyer or good law firm through this sort of networking long before law firm websites. Ask any of us who practiced for a decade or two before websites – it’s true.

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