Some attorneys represent clients in multiple jurisdictions. In part, it’s strategic: it develops the breadth and experience of an attorney’s practice. It also creates a wider pool for potential clients. Expansion and growth are usually followed by increased profits.
If you are one of these attorneys, have you noticed if your website has been attracting clients in each jurisdiction effectively? If not, then you likely are not benefiting from this strategy. You may want to assess your content marketing plan and review your website for opportunities to increase your online marketing.
To target clients in each jurisdiction, three specific tasks should be addressed:
- Make search engines work for you (so potential clients can initially discover you);
- Make your website work for clients (so potential new clients can navigate your website for the information they need); and
- Balance ethics requirements for each jurisdiction (so no red flags are drawn on you or your services).
Here, we provide an overview of what these things mean for you if you practice or are thinking of practicing in multiple jurisdictions.
Multiple Jurisdictions: Making Search Engines Work for You
How do you get search engines to work for you? Getting search engines to work for you means getting them to identify you as an attorney within the respective jurisdiction.
How do you do this? Content.
From the URL to the meta descriptions and titles, you need to show search engines you work in specific jurisdictions. Search engines must be able to identify certain criteria to generate your website on search engine results, and this usually means creating rich local content for your website. To do so, incorporate the following:
- Create webpages specific to each jurisdiction. Whether you represent clients in two or more cities, counties, or states, you need local pages for each of those jurisdictions.
- On each jurisdiction-specific webpage, make sure the URL, title, content, H2 headers within the body of the content, and meta-description mention the jurisdiction.
For example, if you practice tax law in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., then you may want to have a tax page specific to each state. An example for Maryland would be:
- URL: www.smithtaxlaw.com/maryland-experienced-tax-attorney.html
- Title: Resourceful Maryland Tax Attorney
- H2 Headers: Where can I find an experienced tax lawyer in Maryland?
- Meta Description: Tax law is complex and a mistake can lead to an audit. Contact the experienced Smith Tax Law Firm attorneys in Maryland today.
On this same Maryland-specific page, add details, addresses, names, etc. that are specific to the state. Then, you would want to replicate the same strategy for the other two jurisdictions.
If the jurisdiction is not mentioned in things like the URL or the title, then search engines may assume you provide services on a national level — that means a lot more competition for you and a lot more challenges to conquer before ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs). Without rank, potential clients in these jurisdictions are less likely to find you.
Multiple Jurisdictions: Making Your Website Work for Potential New Clients
Once you get search engines to work for you by providing the information they need in the places they want it, make your website work for potential new clients. This task boils now to two things:
- User-friendly website; and
- User-friendly content.
Your website should be user friendly regardless of the multiple jurisdiction aspect. That said, if you work in multiple jurisdictions, then you need to clarify that on your website, and potential clients need to understand it with minimal work on their end. That means making sure the website’s content is structured, organized, and labeled for easy navigation.
Below are examples of how to organize your website.
A menu can be created to clearly identify pages associated with respective jurisdictions. For example, a top-level menu bar could include:
- About Us
- Maryland Law Practice
- Pennsylvania Law Practice
- Contact Us.
An example of an actual menu includes:
In the above screenshot example, the law office provides tax services to two specific jurisdictions: federal (IRS) and Maryland. A visitor can immediately identify the same.
Navigation titles are the labels used to identify main pages and subpages and are situated under the top menu items. You want to be sure that any pages specific to the state include the state’s name (the same is true for county and city).
An example of actual navigation titles include:
In the above screenshot, the law firm practices personal injury law in Maryland, DC, and the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Again, a visitor to your site can easily identify the jurisdiction.
Internal links do not require labeling, but it is about organization and navigation. Internal links should be used to direct clients to jurisdiction-specific pages or vice versa.
For example, if you are a criminal lawyer working in three counties of Texas, the law for each criminal practice area is the same but the court procedures likely differ. You can have one page for each of the three counties, providing useful local SEO. On each of these local county pages, you should also provide internal links to specific criminal pages, like theft, robbery, drug possession, etc.
As you can see, the structure of your multi-jurisdiction content matters. It can also get quite intricate. However you organize your content, be sure that clients can easily identify or find topics related to their specific jurisdiction.
Your content should identify which practice area is being discussed. Oftentimes attorneys who work in multiple jurisdictions will write one page on a topic. If the page is general enough, then it may not matter. If, however, you want to provide real value to your visitors, then content must be more than mere generalities. You need real information.
And if you provide real information, then there are going to be differences based on the jurisdiction. You should structure and provide headings on the page to identify which jurisdiction (whether it’s county, city, or state) being discussed. The visual structure will have a big impact on the visitor’s ability to quickly identify information specific to his or her needs.
Multiple Jurisdictions: Marketing & Adhering to All Relevant Ethical Rules
When you work in multiple states, it is important to market in a way that adheres to relevant ethical rules of each specific jurisdiction. Many states differ with what you can and cannot do with your website and the content on it. There are, however, two specific themes that seem to transcend jurisdictions, and these are:
- Self-laudatory claims. Self-laudatory claims can be acceptable so long as they are not false or misleading. Of course, that’s where the problem comes in. If an attorney calls him or herself an expert in criminal law without any kind of state or board certification, then that can potentially be a false statement. Likewise, if you say you are the best attorney, that “best” is subjective but it can also be misleading, causing a potential client to assume that “best” equates to winning his or her case.
- Disclaimers. It is easy online to blur the line that demarcates a client-attorney relationship. For example, if you have a blog and a potential client asks a question in the comment area, and then you respond to engage the potential client, how you respond can be problematic. Disclaimers can inform the visitor that what you say is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
When you market yourself to audiences in different states, you need to make sure your content complies with each state bar’s ethics rules. Though Bates v. State Bar of Arizona made it possible for lawyers to truthfully advertise themselves, there are still limits on this form of “free speech.” Limits are set by each state’s ethics rules.
So, don’t risk getting reprimanded. Don’t risk getting a suspension. Don’t risk losing your clients to other attorneys marketing themselves within the boundaries of ethics. Stay strategic and benefit from your efforts.
About the author: Tina Sorenson-Banavathu, LLM, is the Senior Content Editor at LawLytics. Tina graduated from McGill University Faculty of Law, and then worked at an international law firm in Washington, DC in the Environmental and Energy Department. Now at LawLytics, Tina helps lead the editorial and content creation efforts for our content clients.