CHARLESTON -- English grammar and composition rules are being put to new use in law firm web-based marketing.

Aside from proofreading content for typographical errors, Web sites must be clear, concise, complete, correct, and consistent. Creativity is also important, but industry experts warn that law firms are at a disadvantage when it comes to marketing the same things in different ways.

"It's hard for any law firm to do something really unique due to the nature of their business," said D. Scot Jackson of Dream Catcher, a Web development company in Charleston. "A firm's site can present its 'face' and personality, if it is built correctly.

"All firm Web sites should contain their practice areas, attorney bios, and a little history. The only real difference between firms and types of law practices is the target audience."

Other consultants advise that firms should include written promises of client attention and guarantees of legal services. Firms that are more competitive list their courtroom wins, in addition to lawyers' triumphs in other aspects of business and life.

Clients are given passwords to allow access into "secret" parts of a firm's site, which is usually a posting of the lawyer's progress on their particular case or matter. Professional articles and other opinion pieces are added, including frequently asked questions posed by existing and potential clients.

In the process of being informative and educational, some marketers fail to recognize when a site has become too long and detailed. As a result, a cluttered site irritates and confuses visitors, forcing them to click elsewhere. Crawling headlines, graphics, music, advertisements, flowery fonts, and countless buttons make the search for something as simple as a telephone number nearly impossible.

As Jackson stated, a little history goes a long way. Sites that contain pages of law firm genealogy are trapped in the past, relying on the success of former partners to pave the way for new business. A tight Web site, or one that is simplistic without becoming boring, is a strategy for firms preferring a "velvet hammer approach" to sales and marketing.

If lawyers are especially busy making news in and outside of the firm, then it could be argued that a Web site is never truly complete. Many sites operate like news channels, providing visitors with fresh content on a daily basis. While the architecture and visual design of a Web site should be updated every three years or so, Jackson agrees that body copy and campaign advertisements should be changed regularly to keep surfers interested.

However, if Web content is written from a lawyer's point of view rather than the anticipated needs of clients, then the thousands of dollars spent on the site's development is money wasted.

Nothing can be more damaging than the careless error that discredits a firm's reputation. The more voluminous the site, the more likely it is that mistakes exist. On the heels of recent court rulings or changes in the law that affect a firm's clientele, lawyers act furiously to post the news in order to scoop their competition.

As journalists preach to interns, getting the story right is more important than getting the news out first. Lawyers and their marketers must be addicted to the editing process, scouring lines of text for misspelled words, grammatical errors, and controversial phrases.

The style of a Web site must flow throughout each page, instead of changing themes or "vibes," as Jackson calls it, for each lawyer's biographical sketch. Although many law firms have multiple offices throughout the state or country, it is not wise to introduce each location in a different spirit. A well-designed and properly written site contains a distinctive look and one singular voice to cement its presence on the Web.

Law firm marketers have a tough job keeping messages clean, narratives concise, facts correct, language consistent, and pages complete. When these rules are obeyed, lawyers can add a different "C" to the application of Web site marketing. Client.

Kathryn E. (Katy) Brown, a former law firm executive, is the managing member of a writing and editing agency in Charleston. Contact The Write Word LLC at www.thewritewordllc.com or via e-mail at thewriteword@charter.net.




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