Today I was bored and decided to see what Rachel Rodgers is up to. Something she said caught my eye:
As a lawyer with an online-based law practice, your virtual law office website is your storefront and reception area. The first impression you leave with website visitors can often determine what they think of you and whether or not they will become clients. Its important that your virtual law office website be an interactive, trusted resource for your clients that reflects your personality and gives them a sense of what its like to work with you.
Ah, the future of law! Technology is going to change everything about lawyering! In the very near future no lawyer will have an office and everyone will work from either Starbucks or their living room. The cat will proofread your briefs. There will be no need for filing cabinets because all paper will be stored in the cloud (or the trunk of your car). Court will be held in a chatroom, and the judge will be a moderator. Judgements will be in bitcoin and people convicted of crimes will be banned from the internet or something. This is where it’s all going! Get your iPad ready!
Of course, this “future of law” is usually propagated by non-lawyers and failed lawyers who claim to be qualified to tell us about the future without ever having been part of the past.
So get this. In the future, your website serves as your reception area!
Err, wait, what?
As a young lawyer with a real office, here is my actual reception area:
This is where Leo practices from:
And even though law offices of the future are paperless, we have an entire room devoted to, um, storing paper:
If you’re so young and hip, why do you have offices? They’re so expensive. Why not do it all online? This is the future, you know.
Because you know what’s nice? When a client comes in and you say “Can I get you a glass of water, some soda, or a cup of coffee? Here is a tissue, I know this is difficult for you to hear… let’s go into my office, close the door, and chat privately.” Rather than “I can’t afford an office so let’s meet at the Starbucks where I’ll buy you a mocha latte… just talk real quietly so no one can hear our private conversation, okay? Glad you liked my website!”
We put a lot of time, money, and effort into having a physical space where people come into and find impressive. A few years ago, when we started, Leo and I shared a very small office that is now designated as our storage room. We had access to a shared conference room in our building. It wasn’t so nice, but it did the job. As we expanded, I moved into the bigger office and Leo stayed in the side room. This year we were fortunate enough to expand again. Leo got a bigger office and we built a private conference room. We dedicated the side office to physical files and a space for our assistant. (I wish there was such thing as a paperless law office. There just isn’t.) In designing it, we listened to Scott Greenfield, who stressed the importance of durables – and furnished the place in authentic mid-century furniture. Yep, that is all Herman Miller Eames furnitures.
We worked hard to develop the office. We didn’t spend that money on technology, gadgets, SEO, or marketeering. We didn’t take lavish vacations or buy big houses, and I am still driving the 2004 Honda Civic I bought after graduating law school.
So why spend money on building nice office space? Because our goal is to build a credible, lasting law practice, not make a few quick bucks and spend it on crap. A law firm is an investment, and you have to keep investing in it to grow.
What does your office space have to do with getting good clients?
Our conference room isn’t just a place to see clients. It’s also a place we use to throw events, host meetings by civic associations and other groups, and entertain people. The board of directors needs a place for a meeting? Great, let’s do it at my office. You know, interacting with real people in real life. Doing this kind of stuff leads to getting good clients by fostering meaningful relationships.
When designing the conference room, we took the approach of Spencer Aronfeld – which is to “make it your own.” (I highly recommend you read his book if you want to start and grow a law practice.) If you’re going to have your own law firm, it’s important that you “make it your own” rather than just be a lawyer who is self employed. Hosting parties and entertaining people not only makes your job much more enjoyable, but it also leads to getting better clients.
In addition, good clients with important cases are more likely to hire your law firm if you have nice space. You want to send the message that you’re a lawyer whose services are worth paying for. If you want good cases and good clients, you don’t want to be the guy who no one will pay for so he can’t afford a real office. You also don’t want to explain to a good potential client why you can afford a snazzy website, but you work from your living room to save money. Unless you want clients looking for the cheapest lawyer in town.
But do you really want a client who is looking for the cheapest lawyer in town?
By the same logic, that means we should put a bunch of money into our website, right? Isn’t your virtual space just as important, if not MORE IMPORTANT, than your physical space?
Err, not so fast. Here is what we have right now:
Cost? $0. Leo made it for free on Weebly. In my opinion, here is all you need for your lawyer website:
– Who you are and how to contact you (email, phone, and address)
– Practice areas that you actually practice (not “everything ever”)
– Some background about the firm
– Awards and other stuff you want to show the public
Yes, we can afford a new website. And we actually have a revamped website coming soon, whenever we get around to it. But it’s about a 0 on the priority list, somewhere behind “rearrange the filing cabinets.” Shockingly, we’re still in business despite having a simple and free website.
But… how? Because our practice is entirely referral based. The only use our website gets is sometimes a client will check us out before calling us, or after meeting with us. It doesn’t generate clients, though, and it’s not supposed to.
Why do you hate technology?!?!? Do you seriously believe we should go back to writing everything with quill pens?
I don’t hate technology. I use Apple products. Dropbox is great. Nothing is more annoying than clients who don’t have email and courts that don’t have electronic filing. And yeah, I have an iPad and an iPhone, both of which I like, and I’m on Twitter and Facebook.
Technology is great, and I like to think our firm integrates it well.
However, technology will never replace certain fundamental aspects of lawyering. Most importantly, it will never, ever replace the human elements of lawyering. You will always need a private place to chat with your clients, and lawyers will almost always benefit from having a space where they can entertain groups of people. The internet will never change that.
Anyone who tells you it will is probably trying to sell you something.
You’re just mean and picking on people just starting out who can’t afford an office!
No, not really. Again, keep in mind that the space where are files are kept used to be shared by both me and Leo. We paid about $200 a month for the office, but it came with shared conference space. What is now my office used to be rented by another lawyer. A judge donated some books to us, and all of our filing cabinets and furniture were acquired second hand. We started at the very bottom.
What I have learned is this – usually lawyers with nice offices worked hard to start and grow a legitimate law practice. It took a great deal of time, blood, and sweat to get there.
A snazzy website will never replace a nice office. It just won’t. So you can either pretend like you’re successful lawyer and call your snazzy website your “reception area”, or you can work hard and and actually become a successful lawyer over time. One who actually has a nice reception area in real life.
The choice is yours. We’ve chosen to do the latter. Hopefully it works out.
But that doesn’t make any sense. Why are you willing to put lots of money into your physical offices, but not your website?
Because good office space allows us to entertain real people in real life. The human aspect of law will always be more important than the virtual aspect. As lawyers, we deal with real people, who have real problems, that are decided in real courtrooms. The outcomes have real consequences.
The profession of law has always been about people, and it always will be. No matter how much technology “changes the game.”
I echo Leo’s sentiments about running a successful law practice: if you’re a young lawyer trying to build a practice, focus on the fundamentals.
Don’t worry all that much about your website. It will never be your reception area.