More insights from Sean d'Souza's Psychotactics Website Strategy workshop I attended:
Education is key to attracting prospects and keeping current clients. Is your website a tool for educating your clients? Does it contain articles written by you or others in your firm? Does it explain relevant areas of the law? Your website is a place that prospects and clients often get a first or second 'look' at you - you've given someone a business card or met them briefly and they've gone on your website to 'check you out.' Or they're looking for a particular kind of lawyer or researching a legal problem on the internet and they've come across your site. What is it that they're looking for? They're looking for good information.
If your website is just an online version of your brochure, you're missing an opportunity to establish credibility and show your prospects and clients that you are experienced and knowledgeable in your area of the law - not by telling them, but by showing them.
I've talked to lawyers who balk at this idea at first, because they're afraid they'll be 'giving something away' either to prospects who will read the information on their site and try to do it themselves or to adversaries who will get an insight into how they work. But the reality is that the prospects who will tend to 'do it themselves' probably wouldn't hire you in the first place, and if they did, they'd be the kind of client you probably wouldn't want anyway. More often, prospects will look at your site and all of the information and educational materials contained there and they'll conclude that you're the one they want because you understand their problem.
As for adversaries, the educational material that will be posted on your website shouldn't be a potential threat. It will express your personality and some of the general points of law or recent cases that have come down in your area of the law, but won't give away your strategy or novel legal arguments that haven't already been used. Adversaries can learn a lot by reviewing previous decisions, by talking to others with whom you've had cases in the past, and by reading motions, filed court papers or published jury verdict information. All of that is public information, and is already available.
Educating your prospects helps you, too. It gives them a bit of background, a little of the information you'd be giving the during the initial consultation or first telephone call anyway. It will reinforce the points you're trying to make when you do meet with them, and it will make that initial meeting more comfortable for the prospect, who will already be familiar with some of what you're saying.
One of Sean's favorite concepts is, "give the idea, sell the system." You can put a lot of educational information, articles, case studies and commentaries on the current status of the law on your site and not touch 'the system' - that elusive thing we call attorney work product. But in order to establish yourself and to instill confidence in your prospects and clients, it makes sense to educate them. They'll see you in the role as the teacher and advisor, the one who they want to lead them through the legal minefield.
By the way, this principle applies throughout your representation - not just in your marketing or on your website. Continually educating your clients about the changing status of the law, how it affects them and their business will keep them coming back - and referring others to you.