Law firms have always provided their services offline. But, more aspects of the day-to-day practice are moving online these days. Almost every firm now has a website and relies heavily on email for communication. More savvy firms have invested in online marketing channels and adopted cloud based software. These trends show us some of the the power that technology brings to an otherwise brick-and-mortar industry. But if you really want to scale and grow a law practice, you need to make the transition from an offline business into an online one. You need to be built upon technology, not just enabled by it. Here’s how you can turn a law firm into an online business in 6 steps.
1. Build A Great Website
Your website is equivalent to your storefront as an online company, so the first step to turn your law firm into an online business is to develop a great website.
Luckily, with all the web frameworks and DIY website builders out there today, this won’t require an enormous budget. But, it’s not something you should skimp on either. Having a beautifully designed website that is mobile friendly is essential to your credibility as an online business.
How to Do It
We recommend using WordPress as your website platform. The actual WordPress CMS software is free, so all you pay for is your hosting and domain, which might only cost $10-15 a month or less.
WordPress is SEO friendly, highly customizable, and has tools for easily publishing content. Plus it comes with a bunch of great plugins to add additional functionality and integrations to your site.
You might also consider Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix. These products are even easier when it comes to do-it-yourself updates and design changes, but they are not quite as all-encompassing as WordPress when it comes to integrations and features.
To be an online business, you’re going to need this extra power and flexibility to develop a truly great website that looks great and achieves all of your desired functions.
2. Produce Lots of Quality Content
The internet is built on content. So if you want to be an online business, you’ve got to be in the content business.
Producing a steady stream of high quality content is one of the most important aspects of marketing yourself online. It’s how you attract people to your website, get discovered in search results, build your email list, get shared on social media, and most importantly, establish your credibility with total strangers.
How to Do It
Written content is the easiest to start with. You should publish articles on a blog or website that are between 500-1000 words at least a few times a month. If you aren’t a writer or feel like you don’t have the time, you can hire someone to write for you on a freelance website such as UpWork or Freelancer.
Focus the content on a narrow topic that is related to your practice. One effective blogging strategy is to title your posts with a common legal question that your potential clients might ask, e.g. “Should I start an LLC or a corporation?”
People literally type these exact phrases into Google all the time, and they are looking for answers. By providing them some basic analysis for free, you can start to create a relationship with them, which can eventually lead to them hiring you.
Having keyword-rich, written content is crucial for your search engine optimization. But you should also incorporate videos, downloadable guides, and other types of content into your strategy over time. Video marketing can be especially effective in legal because it is more personal and helps build trust.
Here is more info on how to start a WordPress blog to help get your content production engine started.
3. Establish A Strong Social Media Presence
Most offline businesses have social media accounts these days, but they are not very active, and thus not very valuable. To transition into an online business, social media needs to become a core part of your strategy.
Social media is one of the most important marketing channels for an online business due to the sheer number of eyeballs it can expose you to.
Your target customers are already online, and they are spending most of their time on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. You need to be there engaging with them in order to grow your business.
As a law firm, you should also look into networks like Yelp, Quora, and Avvo which are great places to get reviews and/or share your content and knowledge with more targeted communities.
How to Do It
Building up a presence on social media is not easy and it requires a persistent, deliberate effort. We recommend using a tool like Buffer for automatically scheduling posts and sharing content across your networks. This will keep your social accounts active, even when you don’t have time to manually update them.
But, you don’t want to become a robo-account either. You also need to have authentic interactions with people so they know there’s a real person behind your business profile. You can certainly outsource this work, but just be careful to hire someone with experience who you trust will do a good job. Your social media presence is a major part of your law firm brand.
4. Grow Your Email List
Any online marketing guru will tell you that building up a large email list is the key to their success. Having someone’s email address gives you a direct channel to reach them in order to start a conversation, pitch a product or service, or simply keep them updated about recent happenings at your business.
Best of all, unlike social media which can be noisy and crowded, contacting someone via email is much more personal and tends to have a much higher engagement rate. Your email list is essentially your customer (and potential customer) database.
How to Do It
We recommend MailChimp for email marketing software because it is easy to use, affordable, and effective. You should be embedding an email sign up form along with every piece of content you produce (just like the one at the bottom of this page).
Ideally, you will want to create a singular call to action to encourage people to sign up. That may be to receive new content when it’s released, or to contact you if they have any questions. Another highly effective strategy is to create premium content such as a downloadable video guide, and ask people to provide their email in exchange for the download.
When it comes down to it, email marketing is about creating a brand and engaging with people on a regular basis. If you have a great website with valuable content, and you’re actively sharing this content with your network on social media, your email list should start to grow naturally because you will become recognized as an expert in your field.
Read more in our post about how to start a law firm newsletter.
5. Narrow Your Focus
All the steps above are mainly centered around your marketing efforts, and creating a strong online presence for yourself. You clearly have to be good at online marketing to be an online business. It’s how you reach a wider range of customers than you could offline.
But the real differentiator between an online business and an offline business is the way that the products or services are produced and delivered to customers. And this is the area where you will have to invest most of your energy.
A lot of traditional law practices couldn’t ever become an online business due to the nature of services they provide. You can’t go to court online (at least not yet), so this pretty much rules out litigation based practices entirely.
However, we are big believers that there is a large, mostly untapped market for niche legal services that fulfill a specific need, and at a more accessible price point.
This is the world where LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are currently operating, but it’s still pretty much the Wild West, meaning there is a lot of opportunity. Best of all, as a law firm, you have a unique ability to capitalize on LegalZoom’s fatal flaw – they cannot practice law, and you can!
How to Do It
To create an online law firm, you need to find a legal niche where demand for services exists, but where few firms have become specialists.
Ideally, you should look for emerging industries or areas that are going to experience growth in the future. Industries such as legalized marijuana, on-demand services, and the sharing economy are good examples right now.
But even some of the more routine drafting and filing based services, such as immigration, IP, real estate transactions, etc. might be good candidates to explore. The transactional type services are optimal from an efficiency standpoint because much of the legwork can be automated.
Most importantly, don’t spread yourself too thin. From a branding standpoint, you want to become known as the go to law firm for a single service. The more narrowly focused you are, the easier this will be.
6. Leverage Software for Operations
Software holds the key to unlock greater efficiency and scale, which is what’s missing at most law firms today, and what really defines an online business.
Software should be powering your entire law practice, not just your email and your file storage. It should be the foundation of all aspects of your work from marketing, to communication, to generating your product, to billing and accounting.
How to Do It
Think about your software as a single holistic system, not as individual programs. You want to implement a complete tech stack that integrates tightly and enables data to transition seamlessly back and forth.
For example, your marketing channels should funnel into your website, which connects to a CRM, which should plug into your document preparation and matter management programs, which should connect to your payment processing and accounting solutions, etc.
When a client signs up for your legal services online, you should be able to manage every subsequent step of the work with your software stack. The full client lifecycle should be managed with software, and with minimal data entry along the way.
If you are looking for solutions, check out our guide to the best law firm software on the market today.
By leveraging software, you create the efficiencies that don’t exist at traditional law firms. You get more done, with fewer resources. You create higher profit margins. You create a scalable business model where your revenue isn’t limited by the number of hours in a day. You become a technology powered, online business.