The best way to help law firms recognise how the internet can impact on their law firms is not just to "talk the talk, but walk the walk"
- Tessa Shepperson
My aim has been to show by example how sole practitioners and small law firms can use internet marketing to rocket their law firms in this new digital age.
So I am delighted this week, that Tessa Shepperson a sole practitioner and owner of www.landlordlaw.co.uk
and one of my internet heroines has shared her experiences of how the internet has helped her develop her law practice Q: How Did You Start Using the Internet for your Law Firm?A:
I have been fascinated by the Internet ever since I discovered, on buying my first computer when setting up as a sole practitioner in 1994, that there was this thing called the internet, where computers could talk to each other through telephone lines. Because I was interested I studied it and tried to learn as much as I could, even though at that time many people dismissed it as an irrelevance.
However I truly believe that over the next 100 years the internet will bring in changes of the same magnitude as those brought in by the development of the printing press and the telegraph. Already we are able to collaborate with colleagues in real time wherever they are in the world; blogging allows us all to be journalists and the growing popularity of eBooks allows us all to become publishers.Q: Do You Think Sole Practitioners and Small Law Firms are at a Disadvantage on the Internet? A:
No, on the contrary, I believe in this new digital world, small firms and sole practitioners in particular have a big advantage over their colleagues in larger firms. He (or in my case she) can develop new ideas and services without having to get them past hostile partners. My partnership meetings (of one) are invariably harmonious and generally productive!
It should be easy enough for small law firms to allow their most web savvy partner time and support to use the internet making their law firm more accessible for potential clients.
If you have a good idea, it is possible, if you have the right skills or a good web designer, to get it online within days or in some cases, hours. Q: How can a sole practitioner (or small firm lawyer) take advantage of the opportunities presented by the internet?A:
I have embraced social media, such as blogging and twitter and have also used audio and video in promoting my membership site, Landlord Law (www.landlordlaw.co.uk).
They have certainly raised my profile and I know that I have obtained quite a lot of work and subscriptions to my membership site from people who have found me via the internet.
I set up my membership site, Landlord Law (www.landlordlaw.co.uk)
ten years ago. At that time, I had to get bespoke software specially written, but nowadays membership sites can be built fairly easily from open source software such as Wordpress and Drupal (the software Landlord Law uses). Q: What does your Landlord Law Membership site do for your clients?A:
My site, Landlord Law, is aimed at landlords, tenants, letting agents and housing advisors. The services I provide fall into the following categories:
Information - e.g. FAQ, articles and the like
Documents - tenancy agreements, notices, standard letters etc
One to one help - principally provided via the members discussion forum but I also sell fixed fee telephone and written advice
Casework. I offer standard repossession work, for fixed fees.
When Landlord Law was launched in 2001 case work was the biggest part of my income. Now it is the membership subscriptions which are more important.Q: Would other sole practitioners and small law firms be able to use the membership model?
A: I expect so. I have been lucky in having a small discrete area of law which lends itself to this subscription service model. However it is not the only one.
If you are interested in the membership model, have a think about your law firm. Is there any specific area where clients would appreciate (and pay for) an online service to keep them up to date or provide precedent documents and some quick advice in a forum?
My experience from LandLord Law is that most clients dont want a great long written opinion, they just want a quick pointer, or perhaps a bit of reassurance that they are on the right path. You can do this really easily in a forum - and your answers will also help the other members and enrich the site generally.Q: At Clutton Cox clients can instruct us on line, I know your site also allows this, what are the benefits?A:
It cant be used for all sorts of work, but I believe that where it is possible, an online instruction facility for basic case work can be very beneficial. For example, in my repossession work, for standard cases it is not necessary for clients to come in and talk to me about it. All they need to do is give details and send over the documents so I can get on with it.
My service also requires payment in advance. This means no bad debts which is a considerable saving in time and irritation. It is probably worth doing for that alone.
Some case work will not be suitable as it will require more client contact, but I expect you do at least some work which would fit this model. Q. How has Blogging helped you in developing your law firm and membership site? A:
There is really no sense in just putting up a membership site and expecting hundreds of members to join immediately. You have to market it and one of the best ways to do this is with a blog.
When people are considering paying for a service, they like to know a bit about the person or law firm providing it. A blog lets you show that you know your stuff and are a suitable person to help them.
Blogging will also help raise your profile and your firm's profile generally, in particular in the search engines, such as Google and Bing.
Inevitably your articles will have keywords relevant to your service, making you easy to find for someone searching for information on line in your niche area of the law.
There is a lot of writing involved in keeping a blog though. You also need to write in an easy style which ordinary people will understand. You dont want to come across as a pompous fusty lawyer type, as this will put people off.Q: What other methods have you used on your law firm website?A:
Writing is not the only option, and audio and video have been very helpful. You can record and publish audio podcasts. This is surprisingly easy to do, and the podcasts can be promoted via your blog and registered on itunes. People can then subscribe and download your podcasts regularly.
Lots of people enjoy listening to podcasts, for example in the car, while walking the dog, at the gym etc. Through listening to your voice regularly they will come to feel they know you, making you an obvious choice if they need legal help.
If you have a camcorder you can set this up on a tripod and speak to the nation regularly, updating them with news and comment on your niche. This can easily be published on your blog. You can also set up your own Your Tube channel and publish it there. I have a Landlord Law You Tube Channel and I know some people have found me there.Q: Twitter is gaining in popularity; are you an advocate?A:
People often think twitter must be silly, because of its name, and how can you say anything sensible in 140 characters? Actually you would be surprised but thats not the point. If you have a blog, you need a twitter account because it is an important way to promote your blog posts.
A vast amount of twitter traffic consists of people either publishing a tweet about their new blog post, or recommending (or re-tweeting) someone elses blog post. You need to become a part of this. It neednt take a lot of time (although it can do if you are not careful).
As a sole practitioner you have an advantage in that you can tweet for your business under your own name. In small law firms it would still be better to use your own name rather than the firm name People like to follow a real person with a real photo in their twitter profile.
It is important though that you dont just use it to publicise your own stuff as that will put people off. I tweet also links to any online articles or newspaper reports which I think will interest people in my niche, and I think that is popular. I now have well over 2,000 twitter followers (mostly property professionals) which is very gratifying.Q: I know you are great fan of newsletters for your clients: Explain whyA:
Yes, as well as writing your blog, and giving out useful nuggets of information to your followers on twitter, a regular newsletter is very important.
This performs a number of functions. It keeps you in the forefront of your clients mind, making you (hopefully) the obvious choice for legal work if they need it. You can also use it to sell your services and any products you may decide to produce (see later).
However, a useful tip is to remember that it is all too easy for people to consign your newsletter to their spam folder. Once this is done, all future newsletters will go there automatically, so they simply wont see them. Try not to do anything which would make them want to do this.
If you decide to set up a newsletter it is a good idea to use one of the specialist companies such as Constant Contact, Aweber or Mailchimp. If you are worried about producing content there are firms out there who will do this for you, such as www.words4business.com.Q: What about eBooks, should all law firms produce them?A:
Certainly! If you write a book nowadays, you do not need to worry about publishers. You can do it yourself! With the growing popularity of kindle, iPad and other eBook readers, people are increasingly buying eBooks rather than paper books, and they are not hard to create.
The ebook can either be given away for free, maybe as an incentive to get people to sign up to your mailing list, or be sold via your website to form an extra income stream.
I have set up a whole new ecommerce business recently with my web designer specifically to sell my ebooks and kits, which we produce ourselves see www.yourlawstore.co.uk. This has already started to make a modest profitQ: Finally, What advice would you give other lawyers thinking of dipping their toes into internet marketing for their law firms?A:
With the ever increasing complexity of our world, existing and potential clients are crying out for easy ways to understand information about the regulations which affect their daily lives.
We, as Lawyers are the best people to provide this.
The internet is the perfect medium for providing it, promoting it, and selling it.
Thank you Tessa, I am sure many lawyers reading this will be inspired to follow your leadTessa has several other websites including her main blog http://www.landlordlawblog.co.uk/and also her e-commerce site www.yourlawstore.co.ukSolicitors Marketing Success provides advice to sole practitioners and small law firms on how to use the internet to market their law firms effectively from consultancy, creation of websites, web products, email marketing, blogging and social media.If you have not done so already sign up on the right hand side of this page to receive our regular free blogs on how you law firm can get found online and convert potential clients into actual clients.