Bar News - January 4, 2002
How I Use My Small-Firm Web Site
By: Joshua Gordon
EVEN IN THIS post dot-com economy, not having a presence on the Internet makes a law firm appear to be behind the times. But the reason usually given to have a site Ė attracting people surfing the Web looking for a lawyer Ė isnít my Web siteís most important use.
I practice almost entirely in the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the First Circuit; I have a niche practice, limited to a small geographic area. When I began planning a Web site, I figured that marketing the site itself would be too scatter-shot an approach to attract new clients. Therefore, I havenít bothered spending money or time getting my site linked to others, ensuring it is well-listed by the popular search engines, or registering it with the various law-related services that might help prospects find me. When I created the site, I wondered a bit why I was doing it, beyond being able to demonstrate I was in the 21st century. I now have a year-and-a-half experience with my firmís Web site (www.AppealsLawyer.net), and can report how it has been useful to my small firm.
By far the most important use I make of my site is establishing my credentials for prospective clients. I am an appellate lawyer. I have no pre-existing relationship with most of my clients, and generally expect to return their matters to their trial attorneys after the appeals court relinquishes jurisdiction through remand, reversal, etc. Because an appellate case is conducted entirely on the paper record as it exists, I donít spend much time with clients listening to their stories and gaining their confidence.
When I get a call from a prospective client or an attorney considering recommending me to his or her client for an appeal, during my initial conversation I always refer them to my site. My site gives prospective clients an opportunity to assess my work.
My site has the obvious elements. Clients can see my professional curriculum vitae, my organizational and charitable involvements, the terms of my representation, and a summary of the services I provide to clients and attorneys.
But also posted to my Web site are most of the briefs I have filed. A prospect or his or her trial attorney can see the number of appellate cases in which I have been involved, what areas of law I have litigated, and the quality of my work. I post the briefs in .pdf ("portable document format"), the most widely used document distribution file-type on the Web. Pdf allows me to have my briefs available on the Internet in the exact form the court gets them, even with the proper colored cover.
Before I had a Web site, I used to make extra copies of all my briefs for marketing purposes. I paid for these extra copies, and stored them. Then, when a prospect wanted to see something I had written several years ago, I physically retrieved it from a file, mailed it to him, and then leaned on him for its return in case I might again need it. Now I just provide an Internet address.
Also posted to my site are many of my oral arguments. For purposes of self-criticism, I have always ordered from the New Hampshire Supreme Court the tapes of my orals. Now I also transfer them to mp3, which is the standard music-sharing audio file-format on the Internet. To do this, I have wired my cassette tape deck to my computer and use inexpensive software intended for turning old vinyl records into CDs. Then I simply post the audio file to the Web like any other file. I also have on my site a link to download a basic audio player for surfers whose computers are not already set up for Web-based sound.
Allowing prospective clients to hear my voice in the courthouse is an entirely new marketing opportunity that did not practically exist before the Internet. By letting them hear my oral arguments, I can demonstrate first-hand to clients my ability to argue effectively in the very forum in which their cases will be decided.
Beyond marketing, my firmís Web site has facilitated distribution of documents. In some types of cases, such as siting, zoning and public utilities, there are numerous non-parties who are interested in litigation documents. I also occasionally find myself involved in high-profile public cases in which the media is interested. When I field phone calls from other attorneys, I sometimes refer them to the several NH Bar Journal articles I have written on New Hampshire appellate procedure. The Internet makes wide distribution of these documents effortless and cost-free.
I also use my Web site internally. By having all my significant appellate documents in one place Ė brief, decision, writ of cert. Ė I can easily refer to them. My Web site also functions as a very handy case list of my appellate litigation.
Before I established my site, being on the Web seemed overwhelming. At what then seemed like considerable expense for a small firm, I hired a local Web site designer, TrulyCool.com. The designer got the site up and running, but also taught me how to maintain the site, post files to it and alter its elements when necessary. The designer also walked me through the audio component.
At this point, posting to the Internet is routine and nearly effortless. It takes me no more time to print a brief to the Internet than it does to print it on paper. Because my cassette deck is now wired to my computer, I create an audio file the first time I listen to the argument tapes. I am convinced that any computer-literate person can master these things within a day.
I, like any modern attorney, use the Web for statute and case research. Recently, however, I have begun using it to personally multi-task. There are numerous materials I want to read, but I canít find the time to do it. Itís hard to even keep up with the latest United States Supreme Court, First Circuit and New Hampshire Supreme Court decisions. I now have an inexpensive program that reads text documents and saves them in mp3 format, which I download to my portable mp3 player. Because the human ear is apparently able to understand voice spoken much faster than normal speaking pace, the computer voice can be sped up to an astonishing tempo. I now "read" cases while washing the dishes. (I have been delighted to learn that nearly all of the Grateful Deadís live recordings are available on the Web Ė I donít always listen to law.)
Utilizing the Web is essential. But I have found that attracting new clients to my firm is not its strength; using it to close a deal with prospective clients is. It is a fine electronic billboard, but using my Web site has also made me smarter and more efficient.
Joshua Gordon is a solo attorney in Concord practicing appellate law. His Web site is www.AppealsLawyer.net.