We have been evaluating the experience of law firms that have subscribed to our DirectLaw Virtual Law Firm Platform to determine what are the factors that make for success. Subscribers to our service are mostly solo practitioners and small law firms who are experimenting with this new mode of delivering legal services online. We want to share their experiences as we learn from them about what works and what doesn’t work. When we have exemplary examples of success we will develop case studies from which we all can learn.
All kinds of lawyers have subscribed to our DirectLaw client portal which enables the online delivery of legal services:
- recent law school graduates who can't find a job and forced to hang out their own shingle;
- lawyers who want to give up on a physical office for one reason or another and want to try working from anywhere, but still see clients face to face when necessary;
- lawyers who think they can copy LegalZoom and get rich quick by simply putting a site up that sells legal forms and documents online;
- lawyers who are in transition because they have been terminated by their law firm employer because of the impact of a constrained economy which is not growing;
- retiring lawyers, with deep experience and expertise, and who want to transition into a part-time practice, rather than give up the law entirely;
- “pure-play” virtual law firms, where the lawyer never sees a client face to face in an office setting or goes to court;
- more traditional law firms, and the experienced lawyers that run them, that want to extend their brand online by adding what we refer to as a “virtual component” or a “virtual law firm platform.”
- Less experienced lawyers who want to compete against older more experienced lawyers with an online service to distinguish themselves from more traditional law firms in their community.
Each of these lawyers see potential in the “virtual law firm” concept acquiring new clients and serving existing clients more effectively.
Almost all of our DirectLaw subscribers hope to acquire new clients by creating a dynamic, and interactive Internet presence that is more than a passive web site, which is no more than an online brochure.
Some law firms are struggling as "virtual law firms" and are not able to generate new clients and new sources of revenues. On the other hand, we know from our own direct experience in running a virtual law firm since 2003, that the concept can work, and our own success in selling automated legal forms directly to consumers through a network of more than 30 legal form websites, indicates that there is real demand for online legal solutions.
So what are the factors that contribute to success?
1. Your law firm web site needs to be findable on the web.
Our analysis indicates that a major cause of failure for law firms trying to market their services online is a poorly constructed front-end website that is not search engine optimized. DirectLaw’s client portal integrates with a law firm’s front end website and it is through the law firm’s web site that the client finds the law firm, and logs on to their own password protected and secure client space.
If the firm’s web site is not findable on the Internet, the site gets little traffic, which translates into no prospects and no new clients. Most lawyers no little about the art and science of inbound internet marketing and the techniques of how to make their web sites findable. Web design firms that create graphically intensive law firm web sites that look beautiful do a disservice to law firms unless the sites they develop are also search engine optimized and the web design firm stresses the importance of creating new legal content that is practice specific as a magnet for web traffic.
See: Law Firm Web Site Design: Tips and Techniques
2. You need to have a good reputation as a competent attorney in your community with an existing client base if you are going to make it online. There are some exceptions to this rule, but not many.
A major factor that contributes to online success is having a good reputation in a particular area of legal practice. See Case Study
“Pure play” virtual law firms launched by lawyers who can’t quite make it in the real world won’t make it online.
The most successful use of online virtual law firm technology is demonstrated by law firms who already have a successful traditional practice and a base of clients to draw upon. Online law firm technology enhances the experience for existing clients and increases the productivity of the law firm in serving these clients. Word of mouth referral from existing client’s, sends new clients to the law firm’s web site. New online prospects convert to clients because of the credibility of the attorney in the real world, and the potential for a face to face meeting when necessary. The online technology component complements the offline practice, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean that a “pure play” virtual law firm can’t work; it just requires a special type of practice to make a "pure play" business model work. A "click and mortar" law firm model seems to work best, at least during this period of early development of the online legal services concept.
This is a complex subject that requires more space than can be contained in a single blog post.
For further analysis and discussion of success factors see: Factors That Contribute to the Successful Delivery of Online Legal Services.