Are solicitors waking up to the power of the web?

Have solicitors and law firms woken up to the power of search engine optimisation and should they be looking at this relatively new marketing channel as the economic slow-down starts to bite? We ran a handful of keyphrase tests on Google and the results were not quite what we had been expecting. The smart money at the moment isn’t where we had expected it to be.


No one can really forecast how deep the current economic slow-down will last or to what extent growth in the economy will decline. As most business owners begin to take a long, hard look at their enterprise and business buzzwords like ‘down-sizing’ and ‘right-sizing’ start ringing around many a corridor and board room, what are the lawyers up to?


There is a commonly held belief that lawyers ‘do well’ whatever the economy is doing. This assumption has its foundations set in the theory that during the good times law firms capitalise on the additional work flows brought about by businesses expanding and the general public moving home or investing. And during the bad times, the lawyers are there to handle the aftermath of business failure, fuelling their coffers from insolvencies, administration orders and a steady stream of asset disposals required by those seeking to prop up ailing corporations or pay off bad debt.


So what is the reality? Is it the case that law firms have such robust and perfectly structured business models as to withstand the ebbs and flows of the economy; or is the good times, bad times – the lawyers will be alright theory, just a myth?


The first thing to consider is that not all law firms are the same. In fact comparing Jones & Jones, in the high street with Slaughter & May is a bit like comparing the local corner shop with Waitrose.


Jones & Jones will no doubt have a cross section of work from conveyancing to probate mixed with the odd personal injury case and a steady flow of matrimonial issues to deal with amongst the local community. Global economics might well impact on divorce rates but whether the high street lawyer will notice the difference is more questionable. People won’t stop dieing so the probate work is unlikely going to dry up, nor are they going to stop getting injured. However they are highly likely to stay put in their homes as opposed to moving house and with that drying up the law firm’s conveyancing work disappears. The level of repossessions and insolvencies may well make up this deficit to balance the books.


Does the large city firm have this diversity of work flows in a climate of economic meltdown? The question will be whether the slow-down in mergers and acquisitions and take-overs is balanced by the number of rescues and refinancing deals necessitated by the recent string of banking firm disasters.


There is no doubt that some solicitors have diverse enough specialisations to trade off falling demand in some departments against an increase in others. However, the reality is that not all law firms are necessarily varied enough. There are certainly a good deal more ‘factory’ type operations in 2008 than there were in the last economic slow down of the early 1990s. This is perhaps a reflection of advancements in process handling technology coupled with the pressures brought about by competitive and legislative factors requiring lawyers to handle issues in a more timely and cost effective manner.


Being measured by business introducers under service agreements as to their effectiveness and timeliness has also added to these demands. Conveyancing and personal injury have been the legal sectors seeing the most noticeable swing towards bulk processing of cases by law firms in recent years.


It is perhaps these factory type law firms that will struggle the most if the current economic gloom sets-in for the long haul; perhaps not so much the personal injury lawyers but certainly the conveyancing practices who are going to struggle to survive.


What we found surprising in our brief test was the lack of any of the larger law firms appearing in the SERPs for keyword phrases for which we would have expected to see them appearing. This could be down to an arrogant self belief on the part of the big legal practices that because they are, who they are, they don’t need to invest in search engine optimisation to compete. There is however always the possibility that the apparent arrogance is in fact more accurately a case of ignorance; by their own admissions many lawyers consider themselves poor marketers.


When pencils are being sharpened you can bet your bottom dollar that those charged with the responsibility to appoint professional advisors won’t just be going back to the firm they instructed last year, on the last deal. They will be having a scout around to see who is out there and will be bargaining, not just for the best legal advice, but for the best price too. That search will begin on the internet. And if firms aren’t taking this channel seriously and investing in SEO, they will pay the price by missing out on this important business channel.


There certainly appears to be a wholesale boycott by the big firms on anything to do with search engine optimisation. We didn’t turn up any of the big 10 firms for our clutch of search strings. This seemed quite odd when you consider that even a small deal would probably fetch in well in excess of £100K in fees for the lawyers – more than enough to fund a reasonable sized optimisation campaign for twelve months which would inevitably agitate far more interest than a single deal.


The results of our test threw up some odd results in the SERPS. The only law firms appearing for corporate and commercial search terms were provincial practices with only a spattering of London or Manchester firms in sight above the fold. The lack of good SEO completely surprised us. We hope to see, sooner or later, one of the big firms grasp the nettle and take the lead which the others would then no doubt follow.


Our conclusions in all this were that the big law firms are ignoring search engine optimisation at their peril. The next stage will be to sound some of them out; let’s hope that they’re not too big to talk to us.


Natural Search Engine Optimisation should be considered a key part of any law firm’s marketing strategy. BORN can help your legal practice achieve its online goals. Give us a call on +44 (0) 1243 786728 and our experts will provide an overview of the most effective strategies to improve your law firm’s ranking on the internet.