What Makes a Great Law Firm Website?
Interview with Robert Algeri
It goes without saying that central to your firm’s marketing strategy is your website and my team and I often lament that not enough law firms take it seriously, a sentiment that today’s guest, equally subscribes to.
In addition to his responsibilities at Great Jakes, Robert is an active member of the legal marketing community, having held numerous board and committee positions in the LMA over the years. Most recently, he served as co-chair of the LMA International Technology committee and recently had the honor of being a judge for the 2015 Your Honor Awards.
On top of all that he’s a great guy who, in association with his team, not only do consistently fantastic work, but they have pioneered new approaches to law firm marketing with nice results.
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TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT ALGERI
Hi Dan Toombs here from Fast Firms and dantombs.net thank you for joining me for another Podcast. It’s good to have you on board. A big thank you to last week’s guest Larry Bodine who shared five of his biggest recommendations for your Law Firm if you’re wanting to make 2015 a good one. We received some great feedback and a few questions as well which we’re going to answer in an interesting way but more on that in next week’s episode and just a reminder if you do have any questions at all that emanate from what you hear then drop me a line at [email protected] and we will have it answered for you.
It goes without saying central to your firm’s marketing strategy is your website and my team and I often lament that not enough Law firms take it seriously a sentiment that today’s guest equally subscribes to. Robert Algeri a is a co-founder of Great Jakes, a Web Design Company based in New York that works solely in the legal industry in addition to his responsibilities at Great Jakes Robert is an active member of the Legal Marketing Community, having held numerous board and community members in the LMA over the years and most recently he served as a coach here at the LMA International Technology Committee and recently had the honor of being a Judge for the 2015 ‘Your Honor Awards’ and on top of all that he’s a great guy who in association with his team not only do consistently fantastic work but they had pioneered new approaches to Law Firm Marketing with some very nice results.
Dan: Thanks Robert for joining me
Robert: Thank you for having me.
Dan: Hey Robert, you better tell us a little bit about that great web design company you’ve got over there called Great Jakes, that does awesome work.
Robert: Thank you, thank you. Well, I’m a partner in a company called Great Jakes; we’re located in New York. We develop websites for law firms and our clients, and we’ve been doing this for close to 15 years now, and, yeah, I think we’ve learned a lot in that time.
Dan: I imagine so; you’ve picked up a few awards along the way as well, which has been incredible.
Robert: Thank you, thank you very much. We’re excited; we’re always excited when we win an award, so, yeah.
Dan: Hey Robert, what in your mind makes a great law firm website? I suppose I should’ve precede that by saying that in my mind at least, I think the legal industry and law firm websites are certainly different from any other website, you know, for business or other industries I supposed. Do you have that same sense?
Robert: You know that is a great question. I do. We, we’ve been developing websites for law firms as I’ve said for close to 15 years. We’ve also worked with a lot of other business, so we have other professional services, we’ve worked with a lot of pharmaceutical companies, we’ve done websites for private equity firms and, we would, if I went back in time, 15 years ago, we probably would’ve made the argument, “oh, one professional service is similar to the other,” and maybe back 15, 10 years ago that was true, in terms of their websites, but I don’t think that’s the case now at all. I think law firms have a very, very, very unique business structures and I think they need to have a website that supports that, really, truly unique business structure. There is, to assume that any, anybody who doesn’t truly understand what that means, how law firms work, how they develop business. I would think a law firm would be taking a big chance working with somebody outside the industry. There are a lot of peculiarities about this industry that their most important marketing tool needs to reflect.
Dan: Yeah, I agree, and your businesses are somewhat like ours here in Australia as well in that, you know, having worked with firms now for a number of years like you, there’s a lot of information that you actually carry along to the new job too, you’ve got all that sort of that historic knowledge of what is working and what isn’t working, which I think is probably lost to most web design companies that don’t work precisely or specifically in our industry.
Robert: Yeah. I mean, you know, we specialize in; all we do is develop websites for law firms.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Robert: It’s helpful because, it’s all we think about now, we’re constantly trying to, you know, really hone in on ok, what; is this really gonna help our clients achieve their business goals? And you know, as you know a few years ago, we pioneered some new approaches to law firm websites, that were spawned from our interactions with law firms, having built so many law firm websites, we said ok, this is what they need, and if a man, basically….
Dan: Yeah, you turn a microsite
Robert: Yeah, this approach that we pioneered, it really stemmed from the fact that, we saw that, you know, law firms, it’s difficult to build a website for a law firm because it’s not just one business. There are perhaps 60 different’ businesses and those are called Practice Areas and they have different marketing messages to different audiences that need to be communicated, and then underneath that, you have, perhaps, 200 different other businesses and those are called Attorneys and they act independently, but at the same time, in, in sync with the firm. So, we said; “how do we help our clients help their attorneys market themselves, while at the same time market the firm?” And this is a particular challenge that only, well as far as we know, law firms have. This is a really unique thing, and so crafted this solution which we called the Attorney Microsite, which basically allows each attorney to have what is essentially is a small website that fits seamlessly with in the firms larger website, and it can have any number of pages or, information that is gonna help that particular attorney make their case for what it is they do and why they are so good at doing it. And this same structure works for Practice Areas or Industry Group or whatever, but the idea is that, no two attorneys are the same. They may be partners at the same firm, they may have practices that overlap, but their focus may be slightly different or the way they develop business may be slightly different and we should be able to give them the tools so that they can do what they’re already doing. That’s a premise
Dan: Yeah, and what I liked about the attorney microsite, the whole concept that you brought into the industry was the fact that, we consistently see that, you know, a potential client will go to a law firm’s website and the home page might be some blog content that they read, but very soon after they turn onto the attorney or the lawyer’s bio page and it’s prime real estate, you have to make it as best as you possibly can and I think the attorney microsite concept sort of does that, it flushes it out this whole microsite within the wider framework of the website. It’s great work.
Robert: Yeah, this is exactly what we’re finding here. I mean this, we know, intuitively we all know this, and that this is how people are doing their research. They’re being referred to the firm, or to a particular attorney and they are going to the website, and you know, this is their chance to make their case, they are better at anybody else in the world at this particular thing and we don’t want them to be bouncing around the website trying to find out this information because we know that, you know, that’s a wild, that can be a wild ride. What we wanna do is keep out potential client on that attorney page in their microsite with all the information that they need right there. Quick and easy
Dan: Yeah, very true. Robert, I’m thinking about those firms out there that might have a D or a C+ website and they are scratching their head and they’re going, “how do we actually get this website up to an A- or a B”, what are some of the steps in your view that might help them?
Robert: Oh wow, alright. I think it’s the very first thing; it has to start with positioning. Positioning is when a website is crafted in such a way that it makes clear what a firm does, as a means of distinguishing it from competitors. I think the reason why this is so important is because, good positioning, or understanding the firm’s position will dictate the entire strategy for the firm, for the firm’s website and what I mean by that is what gets designed, what particular functionality it will have, what content should be written for the website, what ideas need to be shared on the website; all of this really stems from the position that the firm wants to go it’s the world is. And, the challenge here is that obtaining good positioning is really, really hard to do. The reason is, we’ve touched on this before, a large law firm could have 60 different practices and those are 60 different directions that the firm is going in, because of that, what you see is that many firms have really mushy positioning, potion that really doesn’t say anything. So you see like a home page design or tag lines that say things like, “expertize,” or, “we have vision” or “integrity”, you know, these are empty words, they don’t connect with anybody outside the firm or inside the firm.
Dan: Yeah True, true.
Robert: So I think it’s essential that firms lead with positioning and one our clients, you know….
Robert: I always think of them as having really good positioning.
Dan: Yeah, love it, yeah.
Robert: But what’s interesting though, it’s easy for a firm that does one thing. We have clients that do essentially one thing, they are the leaders in Insurance Law for instance, but Kegler, Kegler Brown does more than one thing. They have lots of different practices, but what differentiates this firm is that they chose to lead with one, so when you go to their website, you see their tagline it’s clear. Their photos and their homepage support their positioning, their twitter feeds that they profile on their homepage support, the navigation supports the position, it all comes back to that, and they have great expertise serving international clients. They do lots of other things, but they are focusing on this one thing because, first, they’ve have had great success there and second, it’s a growth area for the firm, and I think the third thing, I mean I know this for a fact, this feeds, this focus of their international expertise feeds many of their other practices groups. I think they went out on a limb though, they really did. I think there was a lot of internal conversations of can we really hang our hat on this one message and, kudos to them; they really did a good job with that.
Dan: They did, I mean, I should sort have mentioned two listeners that the tag line, or the hero statement is council to smart companies worldwide on the Kegler brand and, look it does really, you know, it’s a strong expertise statement, isn’t it?
Robert: It is, and it’s remarkable for a lot of reason, but one of them is that this is a firm based in Columbus, Ohio and I don’t know if you’re [inaudible 13:44], but I mean, Columbus is not, it’s not New York, it’s not an international hub, but they are, they’re kicking tail and it doesn’t matter that it’s in Columbus, but they are putting their resources behind this and it’s helping the entire firm grow.
Dan: And what I like with what you’ve done at Great Jakes with Kegler Brown is that, it’s a bold website, it is unlike other law firm websites that I’ve seen, I think, it struck a new note in the industry. It’s simplistic, heads straight to the point, it’s bold.
Robert: Thank you.
Robert: Thanks. I gotta give all the credit to the client. They made all the big, tough decisions.
Dan: Yeah, yeah. And I ask, I suppose on the positioning, it’s really, I think it’s design is at times, you know, clients want us to come up with all the ideas and just build me a great website. Don’t really care, as long as it’s got our logo and the colours that we like, and you do the rest. It’s great to work with a client that is passionate about their business. Yeah.
Robert: Yeah, and you know, here’s the thing, I think it’s great when they know, when they come in and say; “hey, this is our strategy, we’re going forward in this direction, help us get there,” that’s great.
Robert: But, you know, a lot of our job is, you know, the first thing we do in the process, is we do a lot of discovery. We spend weeks doing what we call Discovery, and that’s just asking questions about the firm and we’re asking all sorts of odd ball questions, things that our clients are sometimes scratching their heads and wondering; “why do they need to know that?” And what we’re really trying to figure out is if it’s not already evident, we need to get a real handle on what’s driving this firm. There may be something really great that everybody takes for granted and that’s, that’s something maybe the firm should be hanging its hat on.
Robert: So, you know when you find that, that’s great, that’s marketing gold.
Dan: SO, what’s the second recommendation to trying to get these C grade firms up to a B+?
Robert: Alright. Positioning is number one. I think the second thing is there has to be strong attorney bios. And, you know, I mean, there may be a lot of politics, you know, the factors that may mean that a firm cannot have great positioning, it may not be that simple, that’s really hard to do, but, I don’t believe that there’s a reason why their attorneys cannot be well positioned.
Dan: No, no.
Robert: And, so, and maybe I should take a step back. Bios, attorney bios, here at Great Jakes we don’t believe that it should be a place to display your resume, that shouldn’t be the goal, you can have that information there, of course you need it there. But, what they really should do is be a place where an attorney makes their case for their expertise and the areas that they focus. And this goes back to what you and I were chatting about before, which is, you know, we know that people are going to the attorney bio, we’ve done our research on this, there’s between 56 – 75% of all the traffic that happens on a law firm’s website is happening on the bios. This is from people doing their research. So, they’ve gotta, there’s gotta be strong bios there, but what we’ve found is that the structure doesn’t really allow attorneys to put their best foot forward. They’re really, most bulk from bios are one size fits all template. It’s the same template, everybody gets the same thing in the firm and it doesn’t matter that you’re a Trust and States attorney and that you’re a partner next door is a Mergers and Acquisitions attorney, you have to work with the same tools.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Robert: And that doesn’t make sense. There is, what needs to happen is that there needs to be some structure, regardless of whether it’s, the thing that we’ve talked about before the attorney microsite that we’ve pioneered or something else, there needs to be a structure that is gonna help attorneys make their case for what it is that they do, and that’s really, I think it’s important because that’s the difference between marketing an attorney in this decade versus the last decade. It used to be ok to just put up your resume, or basically say, “Hey, I’m awesome, trust me.” Now, today, we need to demonstrate, it needs to be demonstrated, you need to show me something, whether it’s reputation enhancing content or matters that you’ve worked on, or something, that is gonna help me quickly understand that you’re better than anybody else. I think that’s the second thing
Dan: Yeah, you know I agree with you Robert and if there, you know, what we see is that a lot of these users actually opening up your profile alongside others. So they are shaping you alongside other attorneys that they potentially might work with.
Robert: You know what we’ve seen and we can look at the time that people spend on bios, if there’s an article that is particularly helpful, people will read it. I mean, if there’s something that is specific, it’s gonna help them understand that that attorney is indeed and expert in this area, they’re gonna want that information and we’ve gotta make it easy for them to get it.
Dan: I agree. What’s your third recommendation?
Robert: Third thing, alright so, my third thing is that, I think, I think the website, for it to be great for a law firm it has to have been built with, on technology that will evolve. And, this sounds really kinda boring, but it’s really essential because, I, I mean maybe I’m opening a Kimono here but, we don’t know what’s coming around the bend. We don’t know what the next must have functionality will be that every attorney will need to have, or every law firm will need to have in their website. We don’t know what Google is gonna introduce, or what the next new Twitter is gonna be, but, there’s gonna be something and that website needs to have been built in such a way that new functionality can be plugged in and it can integrate with the new system because there is gonna be a new system someday and there’s gonna be some third parties and apps, so it needs to be built so, assuming that this is all gonna happen.
Robert: That’s, I think, I think that is one of those things that gets overlooked, but it’s important.
Dan: I agree. Agility is so important. I know you’ve got your own CMS that you guys build on, which is Content Management System and we use WordPress, which is suppose lots of companies use. We love its agility, which I’m sure you are able to achieve in your CMS as well, but it is surprising how many firms out there still have a static HTML or a Jumulor website or whatever it is that they actually can’t manipulate or flex the way they want it to.
Robert: Yeah, yeah, and what we’re also seeing is that they, they were built in such a way that nobody really thought about what’s gonna happen a few years later, so, you know, there stuck. And, that shouldn’t be the case, I mean, there should be, this should be, it should evolve. Your website, I mean like, this technology, it may have made sense a decade ago, build it like an iron fortress, that’s not how it’s gonna be the next few years. We’re really gonna make sure that these sites are gonna integrate with all sorts of different third party systems.
Dan: so true. So, what’s your fourth recommendation?
Robert: Alright, so the fourth, this is one of those things that everybody takes for granted; reputation enhancing content. To be specific, thought leadership in case studies and I think the reason why this is so important is that, you know, this is the thing helps attorneys demonstrate their expertise and that then allows them to differentiate themselves. If content is truly compelling, it will draw people to the website, hopefully again and again, if there’s consistent content and if that happens, there’s a better than average chance that there will be an opportunity for the firm to engage that potential client in some sort of dialogue and I think having compelling reputation enhancing content, it’s a major differentiator because I think there are so few firms that are doing as well.
Robert: So those are the four things, I mean, when I thought about what makes a great law firm website, these are the four must haves in my book. I mean, there’s lot of other things like of course it’s gotta have intuitive design, you know, I was just the e judge for the Legal Marking Association Your Honour Awards and, you know, one of the things that we were thinking about when we were doing that, there has to be response to design, be mobile, but those things in my view are basic. Like of course it has to be nicely designed and it’s gonna be, it has to be intuitive, but those four things, the positioning, the strong bios, technology that can evolve and having compelling reputation enhancing content. Those are the things that can push it towards great, but I don’t think, I think that will get you to that B+ or A- if you really do those well, I don’t think it will get you to A+ though.
Dan: but what in your mind gets you to A+?
Robert: Alright I think its two things, the first would be to shift resources; a lot of energy, we walk into a law firm, we talk about their, what the website is gonna include and a lot of thought and energy goes into the practice areas. And, I think this is a mistake. Practice Areas are boring, they say little that’s interesting and consequently they get very little traffic; we would suggest, let’s redirect those resources towards emerging issues. And, now an emerging issue is typically something like a big new law, or, like Obamacare here in the states, or like a destructive new technology like Nano-tech, or like a disaster, like a BP oil spill that happened here a few years ago. The reason why we’re suggesting things like that is because these are exciting, they represent big change, change to entire industries and there’s some turmoil associated with it and turmoil is exciting, and if there is something new and poorly understood, well then people are gonna start seeking out information on that topic, and that’s, that’s the intersection that law firms should be striving to be in the middle of. Their content strategy should be focused on putting themselves in the middle right there, and this is really rare. This is a rare thing. We don’t see many law firms thinking this way yet, but, if they did, they would command the attention of an entire industry and the media focused on that industry, and I think the result would be that they would position themselves as an authority on that issue, and basically, they would be positioned as the go to place for all things related to that issue.
Dan: Yeah, that’s an interesting point, I remember David Meerman Scott, he wrote the book News Jacking and he talks about how businesses generally should, that there’s multiple opportunities for businesses to be seen, to be thought leaders and his whole interpretation or strategy behind how you can do that is finding those issues and building your brand narrative around those particular issues, which dovetails exactly into what you’re saying in a sense.
Robert: Yeah, exactly. Like, there are big issues that the whole firm could benefit from and keep the firm focused on it. But what we’re seeing is instead of going for the big issue, there’s firms are focusing on how do we make this practice area sound more interesting.
Dan: and they never do.
Robert: No, no. It’s an uphill struggle. Nobody reads those areas. So, so, yeah, I think this is, you know, we have a client that did this for super storm Sandy, wow! They went from getting, nobody knowing anything about this firm to being the go to place for their particular area of focus on what law they were doing. And wow, this is something that every firm should be thinking about, and it would require a firm to completely rethink how to structure their marketing departments and really the goal of what their marketing should be and their website. IT’s a big change, but I don’t think it has to be; you know?
Dan: Doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be the revolution overnight?
Robert: Exactly, exactly, you could pick one issue and go with it and see how it would play out and then do multiple issues after that. I presented that idea at a conference once and one of the questions was; “what happens when that issue is over?” “What happens when that, when the BP oil spill is no longer an issue, it’s not an emerging issue, its old news, what do you do then?” The simple answer is, you close it down, and you go on to the next issue.
Dan: And you can always guarantee that there will be one.
Dan: And notwithstanding the fact that you can probably squeeze as much out of that particular issue, that would, you know, intro or Segway into another related issue that you could, you know, there’s multiple opportunities when you approach things like that.
Robert: Yeah, exactly. I mean that I think that all sorts of opportunities open up.
Dan: It’s a paradigm shift and I think that a lot of the stuff that we’ve talked about today, you know, whilst it’s in some respects it might be seen as basic, but it’s the stuff that is so often left behind, isn’t it, you know?
Dan: Positioning, you’ve gotta really think about what you’re really trying to achieve here, you know content, you know, yeah.
Robert: You know, doing this stuff well is really, really a challenge, but I mean, you know, we’re talking about what makes a great law firm website, you know that’s, you know, there’s lots of average law firm websites out there and they, they may touch on many of these things and in some cases they might do some of them really well, which I think gets you to the A territory. I think the last thing that would really push a firm over the top, and I don’t think there’s any firm doing this right now, that’s Lead Nurturing. I think the transformation from the law firm’s website from being an elaborate digital brochure, which is what most of our law firm websites are, to being a lead nurturing eco-system. I think that should be the goal that every law firm strives to, and I don’t think it should be a, we should do this next week or next year, I think of this as a, we’ve got a horizon, it’s 6 years, 7 years, we should be moving towards that in the next 7 years, and, it’s gonna be hard, there’s a, we could speak for an hour just on Lead Nurturing and how to go do it and maybe we should, maybe we should make that a Podcast. I think that if you can do the emerging issues thing right, your website, that would be one of the very first, that’s the first thing you need to do to get a good lead nurturing program set up. It’s gonna start generating leads just by doing the emerging issues thing right. Worthwhile leads in that area will start coming in.
Dan: I completely agree. We work with Hub Spot and so we apply an inbound marketing methodology tool in everything that we do. You know inbound marketing or lead nurturing, it doesn’t have to be too complex and I agree completely with that start with one issue and then maybe just have a nice little neat lead nurture on the backend of that issue, and just see how it goes.
Dan: And they’ll love it.
Robert: Yeah, and build out upon it, you know. It doesn’t need to be the end all, be all, I mean look, we know that there’s lead nurturing programs like Marketo and others out there, these are really, they are major investments, I don’t know if that should be the first thing getting, you know, I don’t know if the investment should be made there. I’d rather say put you efforts in the content creation. Focus that content maybe on an emerging issue; that would be the first step towards getting to that lead nurturing.
Dan: Yeah, love it. Robert, we‘ve covered some ground, fantastic. There’s so much there for our listeners to take away and at least start having a conversation at their firm about; where do people find you?
Robert: They can find us at greatjakes.com, yeah, you can read our blog, where we share a lot of our thoughts and we’re coming out with a white paper on Lead Nurturing, so keep an eye out for that.
Dan: Yeah, I can’t wait and I should say that, both yourself and Dionn, your brother, and he writes some great content as well. I sure do remember reading that blog post last year about, “What does a future law firm look like?” It was a great, provocative blog post, fantastic. Yeah, plenty of stuff on the Great Jakes blog, so encourage people to get over there and have a look. Robert thanks again for the catch up.
Robert: Thank you, I really enjoyed this.