After a half-century of remarkable stability and steady growth, the legal industry got hit by a ton of bricks called the Great Recession. Several years after the initial shock, it is clear that this downturn wasn't just a momentary blip, but a rather sizable shift in the business landscape. As a result, law firms are being forced to reconsider many aspects of how they do business.
What does all this mean for legal marketing? Lots.
During the past two years, my colleagues and I have studied the Great Recession's effects on legal marketing and law firm Web sites. Our conclusion is that the law firm Web site is about to undergo a revolution. Specifically, we expect law firm Web sites to:
• Become more valuable. Web sites will rival face-to-face meetings in terms of their importance in business development.
• Become bigger. They will grow to accommodate much more content.
• Focus more on attorneys. Law firm Web sites increasingly will cater to the business development needs of individual attorneys.
In short, a law firm's Web site will no longer be considered supplemental marketing collateral. Rather, it increasingly will be thought of as a marketing platform that is central to all aspects of a firm's marketing activity (online and offline). This may seem a radical notion for some firms. However, it is a natural reaction to major changes that have occurred in the business environment.
Web sites already play a vital role in law firm business development. Numerous studies show this. However, I strongly believe that they will become even more important--nearly as important as face-to-face meetings. Why? Because face-to-face meetings will happen less and less.
The legal business has traditionally been locally focused, with clients and the firm often located within 25 miles of one another. That's changing. The Internet and related technologies have made it much more practical to work long distance. But that's the least of it: Our culture is also changing.
One hundred years of the telephone, coupled with 15 years of the Internet and five years of Facebook, have made a large cumulative change in the way we relate to one another. We've all gotten used to managing long-distance "virtual" relationships--especially the under-40 crowd. And as businesspeople have gotten more comfortable with virtual relationships, they have become increasingly willing to hire attorneys outside their immediate geographic area.
In short, we now live in a world in which a client will hire an attorney located hundreds of miles away--as long as that attorney has highly specialized expertise that the client needs. This is forcing a shift in how attorneys think about business development.
• Old thinking: Business development is a highly personal process, almost always conducted in-person, often over dinner and drinks.
• New thinking: Your Web site will play a central role in business development as your client base becomes more geographically dispersed.
Here's what it boils down to: legal marketing increasingly will be about demonstrating your specialized expertise. And, in a world in which your clients may be located far, far away, this will happen largely via content found on your Web site.
If you accept the notion that the future of legal marketing is largely about demonstrating highly specialized expertise, this inevitably prompts the question: how exactly does one do this?
The answer is content marketing. This means creating reputation-enhancing content (like articles, blog posts, presentations, videos and podcasts) and posting them on the Internet for prospective clients to read.
Content marketing is arguably the most effective way attorneys can market themselves over long distances. I expect that as attorneys realize that attitudes towards geography are changing, we will see a massive explosion in the volume of content that attorneys create.
Law firm Web sites will expand because attorneys will want to compile all of the content they create into a central place for prospects to read (the firm's Web site), even if the content was originally created for publication elsewhere (like a social media Web site). This will cause the size of Web sites to expand greatly as the volume of content grows. It will also force law firms to think very differently about the purpose of their Web sites:
• Old thinking: Law firm Web site = online brochure.
• New thinking: Law firm Web site = publishing platform for attorney-generated content.
The growth of content marketing raises some interesting questions: How do we organize all of this content? How can we maximize its business development potential? One thing is for sure--most existing law firm Web sites cannot accommodate an explosion of content without becoming un-navigable messes. Therefore, I expect a fundamental change in how law firm Web sites are structured and organized.
FOCUS ON ATTORNEYS
The third major change to law firm Web sites will be a shift in