This is a transcript of a podcast discussing lawyer Web sites, issues relating to creating a lawyer-client relationship, and tips on improving site functionality.
Speaker Key: PB Phil Brown, DW David Whelan
PB: Hi, it’s Phil Brown. I’m here with David Whelan and we’re going to talk about some tips for having your own website.
DW: If you have a website for your law firm you can put all sorts of information on it that will help people to find you faster and learn a little bit more about the sorts of services you provide. So, it gives you a great opportunity to have something working for you 24 hours a day that if people type in a search in Google, or if a friend refers you to them, they can quickly find out a little bit about you.
PB: It would be a good idea to have information about where your law office is, the languages spoken in your law office, the type of service you provide, things like that.
DW: If you have other content too, if you are blogging for your practice or blogging for your practice area you can have that incorporated into your website. If you’ve got newsletters and other content it’s a great way to take something that you have shared with your clients or potential clients through mail or in a physical format and put that up on your website as well.
PB: It can also be part of your branding with your website name. It could be www.davidwhelan.com. If you have your own domain, you could also run an intranet in the background and give clients secret access to that site that no one else would have access to.
DW: Exactly, that’s a great example of resources that are available now to any sized law firm. You don’t have to be a big law firm to have a so-called extranet. You can create a secure place for your clients to log in and either look at information you want to provide them or have a place where they can share information with you in a secure way at any firm size.
DW: There are a number of documents that you should probably have accessible on your website and like your email confidentiality statement. It may not be that effective, because like your email confidentiality statement, it’s probably at the bottom of your email. These documents are often linked in at the bottom of your website, but they’re still important to provide so that you are able to define for people who visit your website what they should be expecting from you and from the information that is on your website, and also have an understanding of the sorts of information that you’re capturing from their visit, both the information that they give you voluntarily and the information that you’re capturing about when they visited, where they came from, that sort of thing.
DW: Exactly. I think having a public face on the web means that you are essentially standing on a street corner and greeting everybody who walks by. And the issues that will arise from creating a lawyer-client relationship with people who you won’t actually have interacted with.
PB: When we say "lawyer", it’s interchangeable with paralegals or legal services firms that have websites as well. So, in terms of other documents, the privacy statement that is also usually embedded at the bottom of a website covers what sorts of things?
DW: Well, when people visit a website they leave information about where they’ve come from. They sometimes leave information about where they go to next. They might have come to your website using a particular keyword in Google or a search that they used, and all that information may be captured by you. It’s usually a good idea to let people know that you have got that information about them so they understand what you’re capturing on that website.
PB: Right, and there are also statements with respect to things like IP, as to who keeps that information and if there is some sort of a dispute, who they would contact and so on. In terms of people emailing your website, there’s a few tips that we might include there.
DW: You had a great suggestion which was to use an email form, and I’ll let you talk about that. I think another good reason not to put your email address on your website is that the email will then be harvested by people who will start to spam you and that will give you increased opportunity to have problems coming to you via email, whether it’s a worm or a virus or some other bad information that’s coming through those emails.
PB: I guess my point is, it’s a good idea to have an email form on your website instead of just your email. And these are forms, it’s a fill-in-the-blank type form on your website, and the person or prospective client would contact you, they would fill in information, their name and address and how you could get hold of them to discuss their legal problem and that sort of form prevents them from sending you an attachment and as David mentioned, it might have a virus or a malware attached to an email. You avoid all that with a fill in the blank form.
PB: One of the provisos that should be on the same page as your email form would be some sort of information to tell them that they’re not a client until they have retained you in the usual way to become a client, and no information that they send you will be considered confidential until they have formed that solicitor-client relationship.
DW: That’s great.
PB: And it also prevents a conflicts of interest situation. You don’t want that person giving you information about the case and creating a relationship until you’ve been able to do a conflicts check. You want to be able to protect them as well.
DW: And we’ve seen an increase in people using websites to interact with lawyers and ask them to engage in collections or other activities on their behalf that are actually frauds. There are things that don’t end up doing anything other than hurting the lawyer and the lawyer’s trust account.
PB: And that’s happening a lot lately. Lawyers in small and small to mid-size firms are being targeted as part of a fraud, just because they have an email and someone will email them and say, hey, look, someone referred you to me and can you do this kind of work for me. And that’s how it all starts, and where you really need to be diligent in doing the client ID and verification requirements to make sure that they’re not setting up a relationship with a fraudster.
DW: The use of an email form can also slow down the fraudster so that if they are just harvesting email addresses that are out there and then contacting lawyers, if they have to go through your form, they may not take the time to do that. It is a fraud of opportunity. So, that’s another good way to give yourself a little bit of protection. And also, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
PB: And that’s great advice because, you know, if you’ve been in business for 20 years and no one’s ever come to you with a collection and all of a sudden here’s a collection and you don’t have to do anything and the next thing you know, there’s a $200 000 cheque in the mail to you, you really need to think twice and maybe call some people to find out, you know, could this be a fraud?
DW: We’ve been talking about some of the policies you should have on your website and some of the content that you should have on your website. What do you think, Phil, about making the website a really personal place, something that tells them more about you as a person as opposed to you as a lawyer?
PB: A lot of lawyers have a tendency to do that. They will personalise the website and have photos of somewhat casual poses with the lawyers in their office and things. It’s a great idea, it certainly personalises the lawyer a little more and makes them more accessible, but the danger is what is in that photo, or what information is available? And I’ve seen some lawyer websites where you can see all of their family photos in the background, you can maybe see the kids up in front of the house in a photo, and lawyers have to be aware that that information could be out there and anyone could have access to it. It’s not too hard to figure out where you live if you have a photo like that, or what your kids look like, and it’s a potential danger for people.
DW: That’s a great point, Phil.
PB: And the other thing is what if you have personal phone numbers instead of business phone numbers on your website, people should be aware of things like reverse lookup tools on the website. It’s not hard to find out where you live. And maybe just a few last points… updates and why it’s good to have them.
DW: You really need to make sure your website is up to date. People will realise if something isn’t current, so if you’re not willing to keep content up to date, at least make sure that your phone number is accurate, that your email address and your other information that you might have available for contacting is all up to date.
PB: And if lawyers and paralegals don’t currently have websites?
PB: Thanks, David.
DW: Thanks, Phil.