Coronavirus and your small law firm: How to ensure your business survives and thrives

This is the first post in a new series that I’ll be writing about how solos and small law firms can set themselves up for long-term success during the current pandemic.

Introduction: Why I’m writing this now

At LawLytics, we’re on mandatory work from home protocol in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

We’re operating at full capacity. When the scope of the pandemic became obvious, we were able to do this overnight because the same tools that we use at the office everyday work equally well in a remote scenario.

As a lawyer with responsibilities to my staff and clients, and later as tech company CEO with bottom-line responsibilities for the livelihoods of my teammates, for mission-critical infrastructure that is depended on by lawyers across the United States, Canada and around the world for their livelihood, and as a protector of the investment dollars and trust that our investors have put into LawLytics, I have long valued the flexibility and efficiency that technology provides.

As a personal friend of many hundreds of lawyers ranging from their 30s to their 70s, I understand that many lawyers are late-adopters of new technology. I know a lot of LawLytics attorneys who have built recession-proof marketing (see below for how). I also know that there are tech-resistant lawyers who are helplessly using marketing agencies, or who are dependent on paid advertising, who are panicking or are about to.

As I write this, I’m in my home office, which is fully equipped for business as usual.

In near-future posts, I’ll talk about the necessary equipment that I have (and that every LawLytics employee has) that makes it possible. You may be surprised how little it actually takes in terms of hardware. As a lawyer, you can run your practice with this same equipment (which you likely already have).

Position your practice to survive and thrive through pandemic and recession

For those of you who know me or who have been following LawLytics, you’ll know that I haven’t blogged much over the past several years. That is because, as CEO, there is typically little time to blog. Thankfully, I have an all-star team that knows the market and slays it every week when it comes to educating our customers and the solo and small firm community at large. Those blog posts, webinars, podcasts, and customers-only content will continue as usual.

In “normal times”, my round-trip commute takes up about an hour of my day. Now that I’m at home, I have that extra hour a day available. And I can’t think of a better work application for that time than to blog about how to position your solo practice or small firm to survive and thrive through pandemics and recessions.

Many law firms are already facing a slowdown in business due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For at least the next couple of weeks, I’m going spend an hour a day blogging to outline my advice on how to use the current business and economic situation to build a lasting advantage for your small law firm or solo practice.

The topic selection will vary widely, and I plan to talk about business and employment, marketing and client intake, servicing clients, and making sure that you, the lawyer, are resilient and positioned to weather whatever storm is coming your way and come out on the other side with a stronger, more lucrative, more enjoyable and sustainable practice.

Coronavirus and evaluating your legal marketing

Today, we’ll start with some brief information about your law firm’s website and marketing.

Whether you were well prepared or totally unprepared for the short term effects of what appears will be nationwide business and government closures, as a law firm owner there is a likelihood that at some point in the coming weeks you’ll start thinking about what are necessary and unnecessary expenses in your firm.

During that process, it is a good idea to take a look at your firm’s marketing. Some lawyers are wasting a tremendous amount of money on marketing agencies and on ad spend. As I’ve explained to lawyers for years, blind spending with a marketing agency is risky and inefficient during the best of times, and it can range from stupid to “Darwin Award-Winning” reckless during challenging times like the ones law firms now face.

As a law firm owner, or an administrator working for a law firm, you may be facing the daunting task of deciding which expenses are essential and which are luxuries of a different time. You can and should look at your marketing.

There are three cost categories when it comes to your legal marketing:

1) There’s the financial cost, which is the money that you pay for marketing.

2) There’s the cost of the effort that you and your employees put into marketing.

3) And there’s the opportunity cost of doing or not doing each.

This post will examine what marketing you should keep (or adopt), what you should look at with a critical eye, and what you should let go.

Your law firm’s website is essential to your firm’s survival and future

Your website is an essential piece of business infrastructure that you cannot afford to let go dark. It’s the most critical part of your firm’s marketing. Not only can you not afford to lose it, you can’t afford to not invest either time or money into it. The opportunity cost of doing neither will be extremely high. This is true in healthy boom times, and it’s just as true in the throes of pandemic and recession. Only how you invest might change.

When business is booming, you have more available cash flow to invest. And when business is slow (especially if you are stuck at home), it’s a golden opportunity to invest your time and effort in a way that will set you up for sustainable success when the bad times pass. I’ll talk more about this in a later post. But the fact that I’m writing this now — and that you’re reading it — is evidence that we are both already investing our time and effort into capitalizing on the situation.

If you’re thinking about shutting down your law firm’s website… don’t

Do not even consider turning off your law firm’s website to save money. It’s the fastest way to earn your law firm a Darwin Award.

Any downtime puts not just your current business at risk, but your future business at risk. And keeping your website up, and even enhancing it during times of social isolation can be a big driver of “virtual” business when face-to-face business is not possible.

If you are tempted to take your website offline temporarily to save a little money, put that thought out of your mind right now. (We’ll look at options in a bit.) Here’s how you’ll be shooting yourself, your firm, your employees, and your clients in the foot:

  • Search engine de-indexing: Taking your website offline will cause the search engines to remove it from their indexes.
  • Loss of search engine ranking: You will lose your search engine ranking (your competitors will thank you).
  • Potential clients can be diverted: It will prevent potential clients from finding you now (at least on a website where you control the information), making you more vulnerable to situations in which referrals who conduct searches for your name and your firm are redirected to other firms via destinations like Avvo.
  • A hangover effect when things return to normal: It will prevent potential clients from finding you after business returns to normal. This will be the case, at least for a while, even after your turn your website back on because search engines will have to reindex and rerank it, and your competitors who followed our advice and didn’t shut their sites down will have a potentially enduring advantage over you.
  • Your clients may lose trust, causing expectation management issues: If your website is offline, current and former clients will not be able to find you. This can lead to panicked phone calls and missed referrals. No matter what you say to them, the fact that you took down your website will not inspire confidence in your firm’s longevity (and most importantly to them your ability to help them). They will see you as cheap, unsuccessful, or both.
  • You will be taking away your opportunity to become an influencer: It will prevent you from being able to be a steady voice for your clients and potential clients during these uncertain times (more on this in a post later this week).

During a time of crisis, taking down your firm’s website to save money should be a last resort. In fact it should be the third from last thing you turn off, and only happen if you have to choose between keeping your website up and paying your bar dues or E&O premium.

How to invest your time and money around your law firm’s website during the Coronavirus crisis

I’m not here to tell how much money you should budget on a monthly basis for your law firm’s website.

While we believe that we’ve set LawLytics pricing to be accessible to every lawyer who wants to have a robust, lucrative, and fully supported law firm website (without having to waste money on a marketing agency and without having to waste time struggling with DIY software), there are a range of options available in the market at many different price points and values.

If you choose to spend a little less money than you would on LawLytics, you’ll need to invest a lot more time in learning (and frankly struggling with) DIY website software that is not designed for lawyers. Your website will likely look less professional, be less client and search engine friendly, and you’ll be without the built-in efficiencies and strategic support that come with LawLytics membership.

If you choose a marketing agency to build and host your website, chances are that you are spending more money, and spending it less efficiently than if you participated in your marketing by partnering with LawLytics. Marketing agencies may bundle your cost of building or maintaining a law firm website with disposable advertising spend on things such as pay-per-click and directory listings. But you might not need those things (especially during a downturn), or you may be overpaying for them when the economy is good. And that disposable ad spend can quickly become an existential drain during bad times.

If you are dependent on disposable advertising going into a slowdown, the slowdown might be the opportunity you need to free yourself from that dependence (see below). While you are paying a marketing agency for both your website and marketing services, it may not be possible to truly understand how much you are paying for your website. And if you ask, you may get a misleading answer such as “your website is free.” You also may have limited access to be able to add to, edit, or otherwise control your website. This lack of ability to understand and control will make implementing the advice I’m about to give you to set your firm up for success more challenging. (Depending on which agency you are with, it may even be impossible.)

Build your recession-proof law firm website by focusing on the fundamentals of your marketing.

Instead of lamenting things that you cannot change, you should use any business slowdown to work on your law firm’s website by adding content that will drive business now and in the future. Content is what drives search engine ranking. It’s what attracts potential clients. It’s what converts clients. It’s what educates clients and sets expectations. It’s what drives your online influence.

Content is the fundamental building block of online success. Its power is undisputed when you put aside the marketing and SEO hype that agencies sell and look at the actual numbers.

This is not new advice, and attorneys who have been heeding it are much better positioned now than those who haven’t. In a world where social distancing is becoming the new normal (at least temporarily), online content (as well as other forms of online communication which I’ll cover in upcoming posts) is going to be more important than ever.

More on this in the coming days.

– Dan 

About The Author

Attorney Dan Jaffe previously built successful small law practices in WA and AZ. He currently serves as the CEO of LawLytics.

Other posts by Dan.