Lawyer Websites: The good, the bad, and the ugly

What goes into a well-designed law firm website?  A photo of the city skyline? A copy of your latest legal brief?  Your phone number in 6 point font in the footer?  Probably not, and here’s why.

Don’t Be the Prototypical Lawyer Website

The best law firm websites have bold, modern, eye-catching designs.  Ditch the city skyline and leave the gavel and courthouse imagery behind.

Give Clients the Content They Want

Eighteen months have passed since The Rainmaker Blog published Legal Marketing Stats Lawyers Need to Know.  Remember what we learned:

  • 25% of people researching legal topics visit YouTube during the process.  Use video to answer the most common questions that arise during initial client intake.
  • Post substantive content, but not your latest legal brief.  The information you share should be understandable to a lay person.
  • Offer resources, including apps like Our Family Wizard, a shared parenting tool.

Clients Want to Talk to You – Now!

Clients are ready to act when they visit your site.  Don’t bury your phone number in teeny, tiny font in the footer of your website.  It should be prominent – above the fold, easy to find, and presented as a call-to-action.  74% of prospects beginning a search online end up contacting lawyer’s office via phone.

Offer Maps, Directions, Parking, and Transportation Links

Eighty-five percent of clients use online maps to find legal service locations.  Ask your web designer to add a Google Map with a marker to your website.  Offer directions and links to parking and other transportation options.  Include a photo of the outside of your building and surrounding businesses.  This will make your address easier to spot.

Other Important Tips

  • Get expert help with SEO – 62% of legal searches are non-branded (“Your city” “divorce attorney.”)
  • Mobile is increasingly important.  A Google Legal Services Study in 2013 found 69% use both a smartphone and a PC for research.  Ownership of mobile devices has grown exponentially in the last four years.  In 2015 a Pew report suggested that one in five Americans access the Internet only on their smartphones.  If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re missing out.
  • Focus on local.  A FindLaw survey in 2014 found that 71% of people looking for lawyers think it is important to have a local attorney.  Clients don’t want to travel if they can avoid it; they may also assume local attorneys know the local judiciary better.  Whatever the case may be, follow these tips from Five Best Practices for Law Firm Websites.
  • Use Google analytics to learn everything you can about your web traffic: how you acquire visitors, how they behave once they land on your site, and how many you “convert.”  (A measurement of the latter would be how many visitors actually complete an online contact or intake form.)
  • As Lawyerist suggests, ban interstitial pop-ups.  They’re annoying (particularly on mobile) and likely to be blocked anyway by your potential client’s browser.
  • Do include proper attorney profiles.  Five Best Practices for Law Firm Websites suggests including practice areas, a unique differentiator, newsworthy legal issues you’ve resolved, and of course your experience and education.  What else can you include: how about community involvement? Interests? Hobbies? Something, anything that will personalize you a bit more.
  • Yes, you need a headshot and Five Best Practices for Law Firm Websites mentions this too.  Opinions abound about dos and don’ts, and if you’re like me you can usually pick the lawyers out of a headshot lineup.  Try Googling “modern headshot examples.”  Pinterest is a good resource.   Here are some suggestions from a digital photography school.
  • Incorporate social media and link to your blog.  These are pretty much no-brainers.
  • Consider online intake, contact forms, and online scheduling.  While most clients would rather call you, there is an audience who prefers web-based contact and online does have its advantages. If you use practice management software, intake may be built into your product.  Otherwise, look at Lexicata. Scheduling options include Setmore, FlexBooker, and TimeCenter among others.
  • Secure your site – for you and for your visitors. If you collect personally identifiable information, you must have compliant privacy policies.  (A simple contact form is enough to trigger this requirement.)

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

Best of 60 Tips in 60 Minutes – 2017 ABA TECHSHOW

Yesterday I shared the Best in Mobile Apps for IOS and Android from the 2017 ABA TECHSHOW.  Today: the Best of 60 Tips in 60 Minutes with ideas on:

  • Blockchain Technology [A direct payment solution that bypasses banks]
  • Document and Workflow Automation
  • Document Indexing
  • Email
  • eSignatures
  • Facebook Advertising
  • Hardware Hacks
  • Lawyer Websites
  • Meeting Apps
  • Microsoft Office
  • Mirroring Content from Mobile Devices
  • Mobile Scanners
  • Note Taking
  • Online Collaboration
  • Online Intake
  • Organization
  • Outsourcing Tasks
  • Practice Management Software
  • Productivity
  • Proofreading
  • Saving Money
  • Scheduling Assistants
  • Security
  • Social Media Management
  • Slide Presentations
  • Spam
  • Timekeeping
  • Travel
  • Virtual Assistants
  • Web Conferencing

For a recap, click here or on the image below.

Practical Advice for Virtual Law Offices

Last week we discussed the ethical implications of WSBA Advisory Opinion 201601, “Ethical Practices of the Virtual Law Office.”  As the Committee on Professional Ethics noted, virtual practitioners must take care with supervision, confidentiality, avoiding misrepresentation, and conflicts of interest.  Understandable, but what exactly does that mean?  Here is some practical advice.

online-1799664__480

Adequate supervision in a virtual workplace

In a virtual workplace lawyers and staff don’t work in proximity.  How do you ensure that remote workers receive “adequate supervision?”  The WSBA opinion mentions taking “additional measures,” but does not describe what those may be. Virtual employers should consider the following:

  1. Establish policies just as you would in a traditional office setting:  dedicated working hours when employees are expected to be within reach of their phones or computers; vacation allowance; sick leave policy; how you will measure performance; and so on.
  2. Create procedures for employees to follow.  Specifically, how will you distribute assignments and exchange completed work?  Technology is bound to be the solution, so see the discussion below about confidentiality.  Remember to address the “mundane” office tasks too: calendaring, accounting, conflict checking, etc.
  3. Require all remote workers to sign a confidentiality pledge or agreement.  The Professional Liability Fund has samples on its website.
  4. Get fully educated about legalities:  “In 2011, an Oregon appeals court found in favor of a J.C. Penney Co. Inc. home decorator who was injured after she tripped over her dog while working at home. Although the state workers’ compensation board had held her injuries were not work-related, the appeals court reversed, finding the employee had been working from her home as a term and condition of employment.”
    On-the-job injuries aren’t the only problem: be aware of Fair Labor Standards Act troubles, choice of jurisdiction, protecting proprietary information [forms bank, brief bank, customized practice management software], and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The list doesn’t end there.
  5. Talk to an employment lawyer about securing your right to inspect employees’ remote workplaces and monitoring employees’ use of technology.
  6. Don’t neglect the need for face time. Management experts recommend regular web meetings and occasional in-person meetings for an optimal virtual workplace.
  7. Revisit your ethical responsibilities as a supervisor in Oregon.

Confidentiality

Advisory Opinion 201601 revisits the ethical requirements for cloud computing and email communication, the gist of which is:

  • A lawyer may use online data storage systems to store and back up client confidential information as long as the lawyer takes reasonable care to ensure that the information will remain confidential and the information is secure from risk of loss.
  • Email communication with clients is allowed, except lawyers must warn clients if they believe there is a significant risk of third party access.

Oregon takes a similar stance on cloud computing:  “Lawyer may store client materials on a third-party server as long as Lawyer complies with the duties of competence and confidentiality to reasonably keep the client’s information secure within a given situation.” OSB Formal Opinion No. 2011-188 [Revised 2015.]  For more details, see this post.  See Also OSB Formal Opinion No. 2016-191, “Client Property: Electronic-Only or “Paperless” Client Documents and Files,” which includes a further discussion about electronic client files.

As to email, Oregon lawyers are forewarned to:

  1. Use proper security measures in cases where information is “particularly sensitive or subject to a confidentiality agreement.”
  2. Avoid email entirely if a client requests it.
  3. Scrub for metadata.

See “Safeguarding Client Information in a Digital World,” and “Competency: Disclosure of Metadata,” OSB Formal Opinion No. 2011-187 [Revised 2015].

No mention is made about a duty to warn clients of third party access where the lawyer believes there is a significant risk.  However, it would be foolish not to do so.  Consider the example mentioned in the WSBA opinion: where the lawyer knows her client is using an employer-provided email account.

We’ve discussed this issue before. Your email may not be protected by lawyer-client privilege if your client is reading it at work.  Before you begin communicating by email, take note of the client’s address.  Does the domain correlate to their place of employment?  Don’t use it!  Even if the address is @gmail.com or a similar web-based service, don’t assume your client only reads and prints email at home.  Have a discussion about where, when, and how your client reads your confidential communications and follow the other advice mentioned here.

Another quick word about using the cloud

Virtual practices could not exist without the cloud, a VPN, or some means of hosting and exchanging client information.  Beyond the basics of taking reasonable care to protect confidentiality, implement policies and procedures as described above.  Focus on security and steps to take when a virtual employee stops working for you.  Remote workers can put your law practice at risk if they upload or exchange content that contains malware or ransomware. A study commissioned by a security firm in the UK and Germany found:

  • One in four employees admitted breaking security policies.
  • Nearly two in five said either they, or someone they know, have lost or had stolen a device in a public place.
  • Three-quarters of these devices – such as laptops, mobile phones and USB sticks – contained work-related data, including confidential emails (37%), confidential files (34%) and customer data (21%).
  • Approximately one in ten lost financial data or access details such as login and password information, exposing even more confidential information to the risk of breach.

It is equally important to have a checklist for departing staff that ensures revocation of login credentials, return of workplace property, and disposition of ongoing email or voice communications directed to someone who no longer works for you.

Consider talking to an employment law attorney, or as a starter, see the Professional Liability Fund’s (PLF’s) Checklist for Departing Staff.

Duty to avoid misrepresentation

Advisory Opinion 201601 warns that lawyers may not imply the existence of a physical office or formal law firm where none exists. Therefore, unless you’ve arranged for ready access to meeting spaces or the ability to see clients on a drop-in basis, don’t imply those resources exist.  Posting or implying that you are part of a firm on your website, social media, or elsewhere is also a no-no.  (The same is true for office sharers, an example given in the ethics opinion.)

Avoiding conflicts of interest

Advisory Opinion 201601 points out that virtual offices must ensure that the conflicts checking system is equally accessible to all members of the practice, lawyers and staff, and that such access is reliably maintained.  This only makes sense.

Be sure to add your calendaring system, billing system, client matter records, and everything else you need to operate virtually as a law practice.  All of it must be equally accessible and reliably maintained.

Will the cloud be your savior when it comes to accessibility and reliability?  Probably, but it can’t help you with issues like when to run a conflict check, how to run a conflict check, or the need to circulate a new client list to everyone in the office.  As noted above, procedures will be key!  For help, contact a friendly practice management expert, like myself or one of the advisors at the PLF. While you’re on the PLF site, check out the many publications, practice aids, and forms that will assist you with establishing office protocols.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

The Best Legal Blog Posts of 2016

2016-word-cloudIf you’ve followed my blog for a year or more, you know I generally publish a “Year in Review” post.  This December I thought I’d take a slightly different approach. Instead of a comprehensive list, I’m filtering it down to my personal favorites. And while it may be controversial, I’m calling this compilation The Best Legal Blog Posts of 2016.  There is plenty of good stuff out there, but this is the best that has appeared here.  Mostly my content, but also sourced from other great writers.

Client Relations

eCourt and court procedures

Finances

Marketing

Security

Staffing

Technology

Time Management

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis

Best Free Productivity Apps for the iPhone and iPad

Last week we took a look at nine free iOS apps to help you track expenses and mileage, organize bills, calculate on the go, budget, make smart purchases, and track packages. This week we focus on free productivity apps for project management, paperless meetings, better communication, security, task management, file sharing and storage, workflow, video conferencing, scanning, PDFs, eSigning, notetaking, sketching, languages, and business travel.

Project Management

Trello is the free, flexible, and visual way to organize anything with anyone. Forget lengthy email threads, out-of-date spreadsheets, sticky notes, and clunky software for managing your projects. Trello lets you see everything about your project in a single glance.  Compatible with Apple Watch.

Paperless Meetings

minute-iconUse Minute to conduct easy paperless meetings. Instantly invite attendees, turn agendas into meetings, import and share documents from Dropbox, Evernote, email, etc. Collaborate on notes, to-dos, decisions, and documents. Delegate tasks to attendees. After the meeting read and revise notes and export meeting minutes.

 Better Communication

Rather than worrying about your data allowance or cell signal, WhatsApp lets you send messages over Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection instead. Send and receive photos free over Wi-Fi* with no size restrictions. (*Or if you have unlimited mobile data.)

Security

1passwordKeep track of passwords, security codes, and alarm codes in one place with 1Password. Search to find what you’re looking for on any connected device. Save and fill passwords, credit cards, and addresses into webpages with a single click. Keep your data safe and encrypted. Unlimited installations with paid subscription. Compatible with Apple Watch. (Free 30 day trial; $5 per month subscription.)

Task Management

todoist-iconAdd, complete, and re-schedule tasks from any device, even offline with Todoist. Automatic 24/7 sync. Create sub-tasks and sub-projects, set priorities, and color-code projects. Share projects, assign tasks, and add comments all within the app. Instant notifications will keep you up-to-date whenever changes are made. Compatible with Apple Watch.

easilydoEasilyDo connects to online services, like your email, calendar, and Facebook, then looks for things it can help you get done. For example, it might ask you if you’d like to add contact details of someone who emailed you to your address book. Or it might spot an upcoming birthday. (Best for personal use.)

File Sharing and Storage

Transfer files instantly across Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows platforms using simple drag and drop with Instashare Air Drop. Transfer any file type (MP3, images, PDF, slide decks, docs, and more). Any size. Completely secure – files are transferred only between devices – no copy is kept in the cloud. Supports older devices: back to iPhone 3Gs and iPad. No need to register, just open the app, and start sharing. No email account, no passwords required.

hightailUse Hightail (formerly YouSendIt) to upload files to a shared project area called a Space then name it and add context or project goals. Solves the problem of oversized email attachments. Upload to Hightail instead and send your recipients a link. Supports PDF, docx, PPT, png, and other file formats. Documents can be secured with an access code.  (Free 250 MG storage.)

Workflow

Use Clips to clip from anything from anywhere: quotes, links, stories, images. Ideal for users who write a lot on their iPhone and iPad or hate switching between apps to copy-and-paste. The custom keyboard doesn’t log any of your input and requires no use of the Internet. Sync across all iOS devices through your private iCloud account with the Pro version.  Compatible with Apple Watch.

ifttt“If this, then that.” Use ifttt to automate just about anything: create events in Google Calendar with only a few taps; keep your team in sync with scheduled reminders for Slack; catalog important email from your inbox in an Evernote notebook to go over later; sync files quickly. Ifttt makes two separate apps work together!

Video Conferencing

zoomZoom offers quality video and audio conferencing – available for mobile devices and on the desktop.  Screen share apps and photos, send files, annotate, mute attendees (or not), easily invite phone, email, or company contacts.  (Free for 50-person or less meetings that last no longer than 40 minutes.)

Scanner and Whiteboard Converter

CamScanner turns photos of sketches, receipts, sticky notes, and whiteboard notes into editable files. Make digital copies of printed documents, business cards, or posters and trim them precisely. Printed text is automatically recognized (using OCR) so you can search for words in images and copy and edit them.  200MB free storage.

PDFs and eSigning

Adobe Acrobat Reader DC is a PDF viewer made specifically for the iPhone. Take a picture of your handwritten signature on your mobile device, and then sync it to sign PDFs at your desk or on the go. Annotate PDFs or mark-up files.  Draw on the screen with the drawing tool. Store, access, and share files from your Dropbox account.  (In-app purchases may apply.)

signnowUse SignNow to sign documents with your finger. Fill and complete PDF, Word, or rich text documents. Open documents from your inbox, Dropbox, and more. Easily collect signatures from multiple people. Secured with bank quality encryption.  (Sign up to five documents per month at no charge.)

Notetaking and Sketching

Use Paper 53 to draw on photos or quickly spotlight details. Sketch diagrams, charts, and drawings. Want to add titles to notes?  Swipe left. Want to add a checklist? Swipe right.

Learn Languages

duolingoUse the free Duolingo app to read, listen, and speak Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Irish, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and English.  Learn languages in bite-sized lessons: Apple’s iPhone App of the Year.  (In-app upgrades available.)

Business Travel

Hopper hopper-iconconstantly monitors prices to find great deals on airfare. Shows you the best time to go, predicts the right time to book flights, and where to buy.  Includes personalized tips.  Promises savings of 40% or more on your next flight.  A best app of the year winner in 2015.

Input your itinerary and GateGuru will automatically provides you with the check-in airport terminal, airport weather, gate arrival and departure information, real-time flight status, estimated TSA security wait times, airport food and amenity information, airport maps and tips, last minute rental car bookings.

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis