Why are we here?

First published in the Solicitors Journal, November 1996.

Not so long ago the culture of the Internet was such that commercial advertising on the Net was frowned on, and those who transgressed were liable to incur the wrath of the Net establishment. However, it is as a marketing medium that the Web has shown the most rapid growth in recent years. Lawyers have contributed to this growth and many now maintain a Web marketing presence. There are around 100 UK law firms with Web sites and about 20 individual barristers or chambers sites.

Less than half of these sites were around a year ago. Those which have had a presence for some time will have been asking themselves the question: ‘Why are we here?’ It is likely that for the majority – though few would publicly admit it – response to their Web presence has been disappointing. The Web has certainly been overhyped, but many businesses seem to have shown a staggering naivety in their Web marketing strategy. A Web site will neither suddenly transform a business into a global enterprise, nor necessarily give a firm a significant advantage over another.

A Web presence must be seen as complementary to existing marketing channels and should be designed and implemented with a good understanding >f the medium, not simply hived off to a third party who may have first class Web design skills but no knowledge of how the market operates. A Web site needs to be more than an electronic brochure: it must have useful content and be regularly updated (why else will anyone want to come back again?); and above all it must be actively promoted (otherwise who will ever know it’s there?).

In fact a Web site must be more than a marketing site: the Web is a medium for doing business and this goes beyond the functions of the marketing department to those of the organisation as a whole.

The basis of most sites is the ‘electronic brochure’ – a phrase which is, I think, self-explanatory. This is a reasonably sound starting point for a site, but as stated is not of itself sufficient. A look at some of the alternatives you might consider will be instructive

  • The listing. Getting your firm’s name and address (and perhaps specialism) into one or more of the increasing number of Web directories is unlikely to generate much business though most entries will be free
  • The advert. More than a listing but less than a Website, a ‘yellow pages’ ad or extended entry in a commercial directory may seem like an inexpensive route to a Web presence, but you’ll probably be paying over the oclds for this.
  • The personal statement and the mixed message. Writing your own Web page is fine, but bear in mind that few potential clients will be interested in your spouse, pet rabbit, drinking habits or whatever. Keep a distinction between personal information and the professional aspects of your site.
  • The flash site. Technology is wonderful … up to a point. But content will always be more important.