Review and Compare
FindLaw Websites for Lawyers
This article reviews FindLaw’s law firm website and marketing agency services and compares them to LawLytics with the goal of helping attorneys decide which is best for their law firm’s website.
Review of FindLaw Websites For Lawyers
FindLaw is best known as a legal information portal and attorney directory. It also provides legal marketing agency services, including designing, hosting, and managing law firm websites.
This review is written to assist attorneys in understanding FindLaw’s law firm website services. It is written to help you choose between FindLaw, agency alternatives to FindLaw, and the non-agency platform model of which LawLytics is the leader in the legal market.
It evaluates the two different methods of creating, maintaining, and growing law firm websites. On the one hand, there are agencies like FindLaw. And on the other hand, there are platforms like LawLytics. FindLaw is the market leader in the agency category, with Scorpion and Internet Brands also having significant market share. LawLytics is the market-leader for law firm website platforms.
This review will help you decide which is best for your law firm.
Different Law Firm Website Models For Attorneys With Different Needs and Mentalities
FindLaw is an agency to which you can delegate control over your website. LawLytics is a platform that empowers you to participate in (and understand) your website marketing.
If you’re not willing to be involved in your firm’s marketing, the agency model is your best option. If you want the ability to participate in your firm’s marketing, LawLytics is built for you.
When it comes to your firm’s website, you’ll need to choose between using an agency like FindLaw and using LawLytics. However, using LawLytics for your website does not preclude you from purchasing listings in FindLaw’s legal directory (or listings in other directories such as Avvo and Martindale).
Why Do Attorneys Use FindLaw?
Many attorneys perceive FindLaw to be a safe and established choice. This perception is reasonable, given FindLaw’s position as the legal marketing agency with the largest market share. However, to understand what you’re truly getting when you buy a law firm website from FindLaw, it’s necessary to understand the company’s history, business model, and other offerings.
Review of FindLaw’s History and Business Interests
FindLaw’s main business is an online portal that provides legal information to attorneys and the public. The information portal (sometimes referred to as a “directory”) attracts visitors searching for answers to their legal problems, information on statutes, and case law and forms. It was founded in 1995 by Stacy Stern, Tim Stanley (both currently of Justia), and Martin Roscheisen.
FindLaw started as a website geared toward providing free legal information to the public. It offered free case law, statutes, and other legal information that was previously hard to access without a subscription to WestLaw or LexisNexis. In 2001 it was acquired by Thomson West (the owner of WestLaw).
FindLaw’s website has gone through several changes over the years. Directly below is what it looked like in late 2001:
At that time, it focused on providing information, and the call to action to find a lawyer by searching West’s Legal Directory was present, but minimized.
Directly below is what the website looked like in 2006. Notice that it’s still focused on legal information, but now the directory is branded as FindLaw instead of West:
Directly below is how the website looked in late 2012. Notice that the “Find Lawyers” area has become more prominent, but the site still focuses on providing information about the law to the public:
And finally, as of this writing in 2019, the home page (directly below) looks very much like Avvo’s homepage in that it invites consumers to find a lawyer and minimizes everything else that one can do on the site:
The current version of the website makes sense from a corporate perspective. Thomson Reuters makes money by selling advertising space to attorneys on FindLaw, SuperLawyers (acquired in February of 2010), LawInfo (acquired in August of 2013), and Abogado (a Spanish language version of FindLaw).
Lawyers can buy “Premium Profiles” on FindLaw using this form. We tested the form to calculate to cost for a firm with one lawyer in King County (Seattle area), Washington, and received the following quote:
These are not exclusive listings. And they often don’t get prominent placement.
As of this writing, a search on the FindLaw website for personal injury lawyers in Seattle returns ads for four law firms at the top of the page and 20 additional law firm listings on the first page alone.
The second page displays another 20 listings, though some listings appear to be duplicates. This goes on for five pages for this particular search.
Some practice areas and jurisdictions have more ads and more listings than this Seattle example. The point is, this is a big business for Thomson Reuters when you consider that the FindLaw directory covers all jurisdictions and all or most practice areas. There is significant additional coverage in LawInfo, SuperLawyers, and Abogado.
How is FindLaw able to convince so many lawyers to pay significant money for these ads? In a nutshell, the website has traffic because it ranks well for many Google searches conducted by legal consumers. This ranking is central to its business because it holds the promise of value to be conveyed to FindLaw’s law firm customers.
For attorneys trying to compete for cases online, the most compelling reason to buy into FindLaw’s directory is when it outranks your law firm’s website. When FindLaw has better Google rankings than your website, that means FindLaw will intercept searches that would otherwise find your firm. It will then divert those potential clients to your competitors who are willing to pay FindLaw. This may be a compelling defensive reason for some law firms to purchase directory listings.
Let’s put this another way: Let’s say your law firm’s website ranked better than FindLaw’s website for Google searches relevant to your practice. Let’s also say that your potential clients found your website and contacted you before ever seeing FindLaw.com. If that’s the case, would you still want to pay to be one of many attorneys featured on FindLaw?
The answer likely depends on:
- Whether FindLaw has significant sources of traffic other than Google; and
- Whether enough of your potential clients are already familiar enough with FindLaw to bypass Google and go directly to the FindLaw website when they need legal help.
The value of your firm’s listing is its ability to reach and influence viable potential clients who you would not be able to reach and influence without the listing.
According to Alexa, an Amazon company that provides competitive website analysis and traffic breakdowns, FindLaw receives 84.6% of its website traffic from search (ie, Google and other search engines). When compared to Nolo, Avvo, Lawyer.com, and Justia, FindLaw is the legal directory that is most dependent on search engines (although all depend significantly on traffic from search).
The above image is courtesy of Alexa and was produced on September 24, 2019 using this page. These percentages are always in flux, and the same query done at a different time may produce a different result.
This number means that FindLaw is extremely dependent on ranking for searches conducted on Google. This is confirmed by looking at Google’s dominant search engine marketing share worldwide:
And in the United States:
So, according to Alexa, as of this writing, FindLaw gets 84.6 % of its traffic from search engines, and approximately 88% of all US-based searches are done on Google. Assuming that both sources are accurate, approximately 3 out of every 4 FindLaw visitors come from Google.
When it comes to organic keywords, according to SpyFu (a company that provides competitive intelligence about websites), FindLaw ranks for more SEO keywords than any other legal directory. This is great for Thomson Reuters. It shows that they have invested heavily in the content and ranking for the site. And it may be a compelling reason for some lawyers (where the ranking is good for their practice type and jurisdiction) to advertise in FindLaw’s directory. But does it make sense for lawyers to also use FindLaw to design, build, host, maintain and promote their law firm’s own website?
Why FindLaw likely needs its directory to outrank your law firm’s website
Before we review the merits of the websites that FindLaw builds for lawyers, let’s address the business elephant in the room:
Search engine ranking for any search term is a competition.
For your law firm’s website to attract leads through search engines, you must capture the attention of viable potential clients by ranking well for relevant searches. This typically means appearing on the first page of Google’s results for relevant searches.
For unbranded searches (searches that don’t involve a law firm’s name or the name of an attorney), there is a steep decline in click-through rate (CTR) after the first few results. Studies suggest that the first organic Google results for most unbranded searches have a 25-30% CTR. But, by the fifth result, it is clicked less than 5% of the time.
FindLaw’s legal directory is dependent on organic (free) traffic from Google. Therefore, its ability to generate recurring ad revenue (the ability to sell ad space and deliver value) depends on the directory ranking well. Because of the steep drop-off in CTR after the first several search results, if your law firm’s website outranks the directory, then it’s reasonable to conclude that your success is bad for the directory’s traffic, and therefore its business prospects.
Below, we’ll explore the logistics and potential downsides of a directory promoting both its own website and your law firm’s website. But let’s briefly review FindLaw in the context of the larger publicly traded entity, Thomson Reuters.
According to its 2018 annual report, Thomson Reuters’ Legal Professionals segment (of which FindLaw is a part) accounted for 43% of the company’s 2018 revenues. That makes it the biggest segment by a wide margin, with the “Corporates” segment a distant second place at 23% of annual revenue.
In 2018 Thomson Reuters’ Legal Professionals segment generated almost $2.4 billion in revenues, with 68% coming from law firms. The segment produced $816 million EBITDA. The segment’s margins were driven down due to the company’s investment in Westlaw Edge, a new legal research platform geared to keep Westlaw competitive with offerings such as Casetext, Fastcase, Casemarker, Bloomberg Law, Ross Intelligence, and of course Westlaw’s long-time online legal research nemesis, LexisNexis.
For many years before LawLytics’ launch, the legal marketing technology market lagged behind the general business technology market.
By the early 2000s, when online legal marketing was developing into a mainstream client acquisition channel, thousands of lawyers already trusted Westlaw’s print and digital research products. Westlaw and FindLaw brands were closely aligned. As a result, it was an easy decision for US-based solos and small firm lawyers who trusted Westlaw with their research to trust FindLaw with their marketing. It was a convenient corporate marriage that provided FindLaw a clear and relatively easy path to become the leading law firm marketing brand.
For over a decade, FindLaw thrived on the strength of its directory traffic and its large and talented sales teams. It owned the dominant legal information portal in the days before Avvo. And, in the early days, it generated good returns for many lawyers.
Fast forward to 2019 and beyond, and FindLaw’s directory/portal faces extreme competition. Most notably, Internet Brands has systematically purchased the other large directories to add to its lead generation empire. It now owns Avvo, Lawyers.com, Martindale, Nolo, effectively leaving Justia as the only other large directory to remain independently owned and operated.
Despite its investment in other aspects of the Legal Professionals vertical, we were unable to find any evidence that the company is investing in innovation around FindLaw or, more specifically, around its website management system.
The pros and cons of having a legal directory company manage your law firm’s website
The following applies to lawyers who have or who are considering using FindLaw for both directory listings and building, hosting, managing, and/or promoting their firms’ websites.
For solo practitioners and small law firm owners, time is precious. Managing vendor relationships can be tedious and can take time away from other important things like practicing law and having a life. So attorneys naturally see a benefit in consolidating vendors and writing fewer, but larger checks.
Well-established companies often face flat or slow revenue growth as their products age and viable technology alternatives enter the market. So these companies, especially when they are publicly traded, must find a way to grow or sustain revenue. As the acquisition of new customers in a segment like legal slows, incumbent companies often see a benefit in leveraging existing relationships with lawyers to sell those lawyers additional products or services.
Some product line extensions make sense to both the law firm and the company. The business earns more of your money, and you get more convenience. But this thinking is often dangerous when it comes to law firm websites.
To companies that serve lawyers but that don’t focus on attorney websites, selling websites to lawyers can seem like low-hanging fruit.
Companies routinely underestimate what it takes to deliver, support, and grow a successful and sustainable law firm website. To drive revenue rapidly and maximize profits from websites, they leverage free, open-source software like WordPress or cheap software like Wix to provide law firm websites without investing in technology or infrastructure.
By obviating the expense, they can then sell the website as an add-on product and make a little extra money, or offer the website for “free” so that the law firm owner perceives the website as a subordinate benefit of the other service(s) that they are paying for without additional consideration.
Some companies blur the lines between products and make it difficult for customers to understand what is driving value. These companies may even unwittingly blind themselves to the long-term downside of selling websites. The costs of offering law firm websites as add-ons to a dominant core product can be hidden and extreme for both the law firm and the company.
The risk to the law firm is that the firm’s website will not perform well relative to websites of competing law firms or directories, and therefore the firm will miss revenue.
The risk to companies offering websites as ancillary products is that a bad website service will undermine the goodwill that attorneys have for the company and its core offerings.
It is a fact that FindLaw sells websites and website promotional services (including search engine optimization) to lawyers at the same time that it runs a legal directory that directly competes with the law firm websites it sells.
As of this writing, FindLaw’s search engine optimization page, where it offers its services to lawyers for their websites, says:
Make sure clients find you first with our proven SEO solutions for law firms.
Legal consumers are looking for attorneys online. Will your website be found?
The messaging is clearly about law firm websites. That’s the only way selling “SEO” services makes sense. While the conflict of interest is obvious, acknowledging it exists is really just a jumping off point in the cost-benefit analysis that a discerning law firm should run if the firm is considering FindLaw for its website.
In marketing, as in the law, some conflicts of interest are fatal and prohibitive, while others are cautionary. When fully disclosed, conflicts can, of course, be waived. Whether to waive comes down to a matter of degree, downside risk, and often relationships and emotions.
When a law firm reviews FindLaw as an option to build, host, maintain, or promote its website, the following are reasons why a firm might choose to ignore the conflict of interest:
- If the firm is already paying for FindLaw directory listings, writing a single check each month may be appealing.
- If the firm uses other Thomson Reuters or Westlaw products, there may be an ongoing relationship with a compelling level of trust. The firm may also believe that it has more leverage, or is more likely to get good service from FindLaw (as opposed to another website provider), because of the size and diversity of its relationship with Thomson Reuters.
- The firm may not care about the performance of its website, so the conflict of interest may be moot.
- The firm may simply lack the time or the interest to investigate other options, and even if not happy with FindLaw, the firm may decide that looking at alternatives to FindLaw is not a good use of time.
On the other hand, here are some questions that may help the firm discover reasons why it should use a separate website company, even if the firm does business with Thomson Reuters (including paying for a listing in the FindLaw directory):
- How likely is it that your firm’s website will outrank FindLaw’s website when FindLaw is in charge of building, managing, hosting and promoting your website?
- What kind of access will you have to your website data? Will you know if your FindLaw directory listing is not sending any traffic to your website? Will you know whether any traffic that is sent from FindLaw to your website also found your website independently of the FindLaw referral?
- What kind of access will you have to add to and edit your website?
- Will FindLaw give you strategies to cause your website to displace its directory? Will it help you implement or execute on the strategies?
To sum up: If you are already doing business with Thomson Reuters or FindLaw, and you don’t care whether your website performs better or worse than FindLaw’s directory, then it may make sense to consider using FindLaw firm your law firm’s website. On the other hand, if you want to safeguard your firm against the potential downsides of having a directory company control your website, consider using an alternative to FindLaw.
The rest of this review will help you understand the technology and service offered by FindLaw versus other agencies and versus LawLytics.
Attorneys now have an established and mainstream alternative to FindLaw’s agency model
FindLaw is the market leader in the rapidly aging legal marketing agency market. Only Scorpion Design and Martindale-Avvo are competitive with it in terms of market share. Martindale-Avvo presents similar conflicts of interest for lawyers because of the directories that its parent company, Internet Brands, owns. And there are thousands of small marketing agencies that also compete for business for law firms in the agency market. Many of them attack the larger agencies as their primary marketing and sales strategy.
Lawyers who believe that they need an agency often end up doing business with multiple agencies as they search for the right fit. These lawyers frequently change agencies citing poor service, poor ROI, or some other form of the “grass is greener” at another agency.
Many lawyers have been conditioned to expect magic from their marketing agency, and when they don’t get magic, they think the solution is to switch agencies. But this is like switching lawyers in the middle of a trial because the facts of the case and the law aren’t producing the desired result.
Lawyers often switch agencies because salespeople send them fabricated marketing reports that give the incumbent provider “bad grades.” These salespeople point out irrelevant things at which the incumbent agency is “failing.” The salespeople imply that switching to their agency is the panacea that will correct the “bad grades” and summon the magic.
Attorneys who let themselves become victims of this tactic often play “musical agencies” in a perpetual scramble to fix the wrong things. It’s not that these attorneys are particularly gullible. Rather, because they continue to believe in the agency model, and because they’re unaware that there’s a better mainstream alternative, they keep their firms in the agency market. They see no choice but to keep trying different agencies, hoping for a different result. They haven’t realized that the agency model is the cause of their problems. As a result, they continue to experience the same cycle of excitement, letdown, restlessness, resentment, and then excitement based on the next agency’s improbable promise.
Since the advent of the internet as a channel for lawyers to attract new clients, marketing agencies have positioned how attorneys think about online marketing. Like all good “positioning” (used here as a noun meaning “the attribute associated with a business model in the target customer’s mind”), the agency model’s positioning has, over time, become accepted as a core belief by many law firms.
The agency market is no longer the most effective marketing investment for law firms today, and can no longer offer the best outcome. However, it has something better — a place of influence in many lawyers’ minds that renders lawyers blind to other markets.
Agencies with directories like FindLaw and Martindale-Avvo have voices loud enough to influence the perceptions of attorneys. Meanwhile, small agencies often collaborate to reinforce their thesis of “we’re smaller agencies, so we’re better agencies.” The result is a mythology that has become the paradigm through repetition.
The most pervasive agency myths sold to small firm owners and solo practitioners are:
- Online marketing is something best delegated to experts, and attorneys should not participate in their marketing because their time is better spent doing other things.
- SEO is complicated, difficult, and/or mysterious, and is not something that the average attorney can or should be doing.
Marketing agencies must sell one or both of these myths to stay in business. We suspect that the agencies may even believe it themselves. According to a quote attributed to Upton Sinclair, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
Agencies say essentially the same things. They compare themselves to one another as they compete in a shrinking market because in 2019 and beyond, attorneys are realizing that they can withdraw their firms from the agency market, pay a lot less, have more control and predictability, and get the same or better results.
There are no shortage of reviews by small agencies competing for clients of FindLaw. These agencies attack FindLaw’s model but appear oblivious to the fact that their agency models are essentially the same as FindLaw’s. The three most pervasive, yet deceptively irrelevant lines of attack against FindLaw are:
- Attacking FindLaw’s contract length. One common argument from agencies is that FindLaw locks the law firm into long term contracts that are just too long. For example, one agency’s review claims that FindLaw locks attorneys into 3-year obligations and declares itself superior because it only asks attorneys for a 12-month initial commitment. Taking the review’s 3-year claim at face value, that agency’s argument appears to be “our 12-month term is better than FindLaw’s longer term, but we still need to lock you in.” If the agency’s service works, and there’s honest communication and good expectation management from the start, why would an agency need to require any term?
- Asserting that FindLaw claims ownership over your law firm’s website. Some reviews argue that FindLaw makes it difficult for attorneys to retain ownership over their website and content. Some go so far as to make the false claim that if you decide to leave FindLaw you’ll be unable to edit your website going forwards. While we have heard of FindLaw attempting to enforce the financial obligations of its law firm customers (even using litigation or the threat thereof to enforce its contractual claims), we have migrated many websites from FindLaw to LawLytics, and we have never seen a case where FindLaw has behaved as the reviews from its agency competitors would indicate. In fact, in our experience the folks at FindLaw have been magnanimous in the transition process, and have been fully cooperative in releasing the domain name and content to the law firm. And there’s nothing about FindLaw’s technology that makes it any more or less difficult to move a law firm’s website off of FindLaw to any other platform. With LawLytics, a complete FindLaw migration can be done in a matter of days with zero downtime and no loss of traffic. So we conclude that the agencies that are asserting that FindLaw websites lack portability are either a) attempting to take over FindLaw’s business relationships mid-contract and are making the argument that FindLaw’s contracts are bad; and/or b) are being dishonest about the technical difficulty of moving a site off of FindLaw; and/or c) lack the competence to seamlessly and successfully migrate a law firm’s website away from FindLaw.
- Attacking FindLaw’s SEO services. Some agency reviews attack FindLaw’s SEO services, claiming that they are deficient, including claiming that its link-building services are bad, its keyword research is bad, and its keyword optimization is lacking. These arguments are designed to resonate with attorneys who are still under the illusion that an agency can substantially influence the search engines in a way that produces long-term ROI for law firms. The reviewing agencies essentially claim that their agency is more effective because they are more skilled, or exclusive, or ethical than FindLaw. Attorneys may leave FindLaw for one of these agencies only to discover that, despite the agency’s claims of superiority, the firm’s marketing return on investment does not improve. This is because the agencies are claiming that FindLaw’s SEO methods are being delivered sub-optimally, while incorrectly claiming that the fault is in FindLaw’s delivery rather than the SEO agency modality itself.
Like the sales-motivated reports that agencies send to, the above three staples of agency-authored FindLaw reviews serve the agency, not the prospective attorney customers. And yet, small agencies must come up with something that differentiates themselves from FindLaw, Scorpion and Martindale-Avvo, else they are seen as a less successful and less stable option in the waning agency market.
Make no mistake. The above analysis is in no way defending FindLaw. FindLaw is part of the problem to the extent that it helps to keep alive the myth that the agency model is best for law firms. And, in its ubiquity and because it likely doesn’t deliver results that are acceptable to all 17,000 of its customers 100% of the time, FindLaw drives and prolongs attorney support for other agencies in a market that no longer serves attorneys’ best interests.
FindLaw’s law firm website technology and service
For most of its history, FindLaw has used a proprietary content management system. While there was nothing wrong with the system in the the early years (and it may have even been ahead of the technology curve at one point), in later years it became obvious that FindLaw was not investing in innovation around their website platform. A search through TR’s annual reports going back to 2010 reveals no evidence of investment in improvements to its aging website system (thought this in itself is not proof that TR didn’t invest).
To its credit, FindLaw has made adjustments to its system and the websites it produces along the way. For example, new websites built by FindLaw appear to use responsive design technology, making them acceptably mobile friendly. And they have implemented things like click-to-call phone numbers in mobile, and security certificates. All of these things are “table-stakes” for modern websites rather than evidence of innovation.
FindLaw recently started to use WordPress for new client sites instead of its legacy website technology. This news led to speculation amongst the smaller competing agencies that blog about FindLaw. Theories they offered to explain the move to WordPress included:
- FindLaw is scared of the small WordPress agencies. They speculate that FindLaw has given up trying to fight the WordPress trend, and is making the move to stay competitive with the smaller agencies who collectively profess the superiority of WordPress. In other words, these agencies, which typically have between 50 and 200 law firm clients, speculate that they have FindLaw, with its 17,000 clients, so worried that it is following their lead and using WordPress. This claim is dubious.
- FindLaw wants to milk profits from attorneys. They speculate that FindLaw does not want to invest in innovation because it is attempting to milk the greatest possible profits from its captive clients while riding on the coattails of its other legal brands. This claim seems more plausible, but also not supported by concrete evidence.
From the perspective of a small law firm trying to get the most from its online marketing investment, the reason for FindLaw’s switch to WordPress is likely irrelevant. FindLaw websites built on WordPress are now even less differentiated from WordPress sites built by their small agency competitors.
We suspect that the reason for the move is that FindLaw’s old system can no longer compete. More modern systems like Wix, Squarespace and LawLytics have innovated it into a corner, and FindLaw doesn’t want to invest in new website technology.
Setting aside the discussion about FindLaw’s move to use WordPress for law firm websites, let’s look at the advertised aspects of FindLaw’s law firm website offerings.
A search of FindLaw’s marketing website reveals some visually appealing agency advertising for its law firm website services. The page talks about mobile-friendly websites and shows some examples of attractive client websites.
A disproportionate amount of page space is devoted to awards that FindLaw has won. Awards that agencies receive can be persuasive and misleading. Let’s examine the awards that, as of this writing, FindLaw touts on its website.
FindLaw’s award-winning websites: What do the awards really mean?
There are many online website design competitions that give awards to companies willing to pay an entry fee. FindLaw features selections from two such competitions, WebAwards and IAC Awards.
Both competitions are pay-to-play.
In fact, both awards are associated with the Web Marketing Association. From the association’s website it is unclear what the entry fees the organization collects go towards, or whether it is a non-profit organization.
What are these competitions? What do wins mean for lawyers looking to get the best performance and return on investment from their legal websites?
In the above screenshot, taken from FindLaw’s marketing website, FindLaw correctly states that it won five WebAwards in the 2018 competition. Any agency can enter this competition by paying a $250 entry fee per entry. WebAwards sells slots to compete in a wide range of categories, including legal.
In 2018, WebAwards were given to 22 different law firm websites, including FindLaw’s five. You can see for yourself by searching here. Twenty-one of the winning websites won the “2018 Legal Standard of Excellence” award, and one (not FindLaw’s) won the “2018 Best Legal Website” award.
WebAwards provides no information about how many agencies or websites, if any, paid an entry fee in the legal category but didn’t win awards. But the number of awards is not capped at 22 because, in 2019, 35 different websites won “2019 Legal Standard of Excellence” WebAwards, including four sites submitted by FindLaw, which we’ll analyze below.
Receiving the award enables an agency to use the award in its marketing. Those who pay the fee and receive an award tend to do so, using it as implicit evidence of the agency’s efficacy. In addition to the entry fees, awardees can order Image Plaques for $295, Certificates of Achievement for $30, and Trophies for $195. We have no information about how much profits the company makes from selling these awards, but Crown Awards offers a variety of plaques for under $40, and trophies starting at around $3. So there’s lots of room for healthy margins selling physical evidence of wins to agencies.
But do these awards equate to the actual performance of the law firm’s website when it comes to attracting and converting potential new clients into clients?
To get the most current data to answer that question, we analyzed FindLaw’s four winners from 2019. To conduct our analysis, we used Alexa and SpyFu (the same tools we used above to analyze traffic to FindLaw.com).
The results were dismal for 2019’s winners, and, as of this writing, all of the sites show an almost complete lack of organic traffic and small spectrums of search phrases with meaningful ranking. To FindLaw’s credit, the sites are visually appealing, mostly due to good imagery, which you can see for yourself here, here, here and here. In fact, in terms of aesthetics, these are some of the best FindLaw websites we’ve seen.
Three of the four sites from its 2019 winners are built on WordPress, while one of the sites may not be. All three WordPress websites use a template theme sold by a third-party vendor and available for purchase by any marketing agency to use in an unlimited number of websites for a one-time payment of $249. To its credit, FindLaw selected a good WordPress template on which to build its clients’ websites. This helps explain why the 2019 websites are more visually appealing than sites produced in past years. (One of its 2018 winners is currently offline; two appear not to use WordPress, and one uses a different WordPress template that can be purchased from a third-party vendor for $59 for a single site license).
In addition to its WebAwards, FindLaw entered, won, and displays IAC Awards on its website as the below screenshot from its website shows.
IAC stands for “Internet Advertising Competition” and can be found here.
Like WebAwards, the IAC charges an entry fee to consider and potentially award agencies for websites in approximately 85 different industries. These range from airlines, to energy, to health care, to legal, to music and travel, amongst dozens of others. In the legal category, there tend to be fewer winners listed than for the legal category in WebAwards. It’s unclear whether IAC is more selective and limits awards, or whether it’s not as popular and fewer agencies submit legal websites. In 2016 it gave out six law firm website awards, all to Scorpion. In 2017 it gave seven awards to Scorpion and two to other agencies. In 2018 it gave four awards to FindLaw and one to another agency. And in 2019, it only issued one award each to two agencies (neither Scorpion nor FindLaw). Given the criteria below, we suspect that it’s more likely that in 2019, fewer agencies were willing to pay the entry fee and submit websites for consideration, as it’s unlikely that there is a significant drought in websites that meet IAC’s criteria for awards. (If IAC publishes information about the number of entries in the legal category and it’s contrary to our conclusion, we’ll amend this article to reflect that information.)
According to the IAC website, the judging criteria for its awards are:
- Use of the medium
It is important to note the conspicuous absence of the following criteria:
- The traffic or reach of the website
- The website’s real world conversion of visitors into potential clients
- The return on investment to the website’s owner
FindLaw’s most recent 2018 awards can be found here, here and here. There is no evidence that the awards have any correlation whatsoever to the law firm client’s success or ROI with the website, and FindLaw does not articulate any such claim.
FindLaw advertises that its websites come with the following included:
- Custom content
- Cutting-edge design
- SEO and conversion optimization
- Conversion solutions
- FindLaw.com profile
- FindLaw.com attorney profiles displayed on the firm’s website
We’ll examine each of these features in turn in a moment. But before we do, let’s talk about FindLaw’s example clients and success stories.
FindLaw Success Stories: What do they mean?
On its website, the company does not go into any details about how it makes individual websites successful. Instead, the messaging centers around the concept that the company provides multiple marketing modalities. It leans heavily on the “we’re the mainstream standard” advertising approach by touting that it is “trusted and used by over 17,000 small law firms.”
It provides a handful of examples on a page that it calls “Success Stories.” The stories tend to explain that, in the age of the internet, clients are finding lawyers online. But the stories provide few specifics about whether and how each law firm’s website is performing.
One of the stories says that the subject attorney’s contacts increased by 20% since 2014, and search traffic has doubled. Putting aside that a 20% increase between 2014 and today seems small, these types of claims are meaningless if the original (pre-FindLaw) numbers were small. As published, the claim means nothing because FindLaw does not provide the baseline numbers.
Another success story states that the firm’s website visits have increased by an average of 28% year-over-year since 2015, “driven by ongoing optimization of online marketing tactics” (whatever that means). A review of the website owned by the firm in that example shows that, in terms of traffic from search engines, the baseline number is likely very small. Even 100% year-over-year growth of a website that has extremely low traffic over a four-year period still results in a low traffic number.
We would encourage any attorney who might rely on results like this to ask for the actual numbers rather than the percentage increase, and we will update this article if the company provides specific numbers.
A Review of FindLaw Custom Content for Law Firm Websites
Let’s now look at what’s included according to the company’s website, starting with content. The company has a page devoted to content, and makes the following claims, with which we agree:
- People love content
- Search engines love content
FindLaw says that “content is king,” which is accurate. In fact, content is the main ingredient in search engine optimization. And, when done right, content obviates the need to do most other forms of search engine optimization.
It’s unclear whether FindLaw uses in-house or outsourced writers for the content, or what the quality of the content is. It is also unclear how much content comes with each website, whether that content is original, and whether the law firm has any say in topic selection, persona targeting, or location targeting.
Your clients and your state bar association will attribute the words on your website to you. As a result, this is an area that we suggest that you do significant diligence in before empowering FindLaw (or any other marketing agency) to create and publish content on your behalf. We suggest clarifying the following with FindLaw so you can accurately assess the value of its content services:
- How much content is included?
- What portion of your total bill goes to content?
- Who will be writing the content?
- What is the editorial process?
- Will you own the content once it’s created for your website?
- Will the content be original and produced exclusively for you? If so, how that is enforced?
- How is the content planned? What say do you have in topic selection?
- What is the recourse if you don’t like the content?
- What is done to ensure that the content is ethics-compliant?
- If the content that comes with your law firm’s website is not sufficient, is there an option to buy more content? If so, what is the process and pricing?
Armed with answers to the above questions, you should be able to assess the value of the content component of the company’s website offerings. Of all of the marketing services available to attorneys, content creation is the most personal, the most effective, and potentially the most dangerous to you and your practice since you’ll be held responsible for the content even if you empower a third-party to create it. For that reason, we recommend that you make sure that you have the highest level of confidence in FindLaw’s content marketing services before empowering it to communicate with the world on your behalf.
A Review of FindLaw’s Website Design
Having a well-designed law firm website is table-stakes. If your website does not look good, you may lose business because your website will be the point of first impression for many potential clients and referral sources. But good looking websites do not, in and of themselves, grow law practices.
The more recent FindLaw websites (built on WordPress templates) that we were able to find look good. Depending on the images used, some even look great. That is more than we can say for many of the older sites built on the company’s old website platform, many of which look outdated.
FindLaw advertises that its websites are mobile-friendly, and work on tablets, desktops, and phones. We can verify that this is true for the WordPress versions we’ve seen, and for the most part, it is also true for sites on the old FindLaw platform.
While there are stylistic differences that we would suggest to make most of the sites we reviewed more client-friendly, in our opinion, the company provides an adequate product when it comes to website design.
A Review of FindLaw’s SEO Services
When it comes to your law firm’s website, we believe that there are serious red flags that should make any attorney think twice about delegating to most agencies in the area of SEO, which stands for “search engine optimization.” FindLaw is no exception. As discussed above, your website is a direct competitor of FindLaw.com for Google searches performed by your viable potential clients. This is a conflict of interest because it puts your competitor in charge of your ability to successfully compete.
But the problems with FindLaw’s SEO offerings go beyond the conflicting directory. Its website defines SEO as:
This is not how SEO is commonly defined, even by marketing agencies. Google’s definition of SEO is:
The process of making your site better for search engines. – Google
Moz, one of the leading sources for information about search engine optimization, defines SEO as:
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. – Moz
Moz italicizes the words “quantity” and “quality” of traffic. In the context of trying to understand what FindLaw’s definition means for your law firm, we think that you should pay close attention to the words “to your website” in Moz’s definition.
While FindLaw’s definition of SEO fails to accurately describe SEO, it succeeds at making SEO seem:
FindLaw’s SEO definition stops short of discussing ranking at all. It describes something that even the worst law firm websites will accomplish naturally as a byproduct of existing. “Showing up in Google” could mean the top of page one for a given search, or it could mean showing up twelve pages deep, never to be seen by a viable potential client.
Later in the page, FindLaw adds to the enigmatic definition. It says:
Let’s unpack this quote.
First, the statement “SEO often means more than keywords and page counts (emphasis added),” is inaccurate because SEO always means more than keywords and page counts.
While it may be tempting to dismiss this as semantics or harmless marketing speak, it implies that FindLaw sometimes does something beyond “keywords and page counts,” but leaves what, precisely, open to the imagination. Vagueness is not unusual in the marketing copy of SEO agencies, which frequently obscure the services they market and sell.
But the second sentence modifies the first and reveals a problem that goes beyond poorly crafted marketing copy.
SEO is about causing your law firm’s website rank better than sites that compete with it for the attention of a limited pool of viable potential clients and referral sources. For SEO to benefit your law firm, it should only be about your law firm’s website (as the Moz definition accurately states).
When FindLaw declares that it includes “best practice SEO” in many of its small law firm marketing services, it appears to be saying that it goes beyond your website. It gives the impression, without clearly stating it, that it creates some kind of alchemy that will benefit your firm.
Which brings us full circle on SEO.
There is no SEO magic, only clear guidelines promulgated by Google that, when followed, result in predictable success. It’s tempting to believe in magic. It’s tempting to empower those who sell magic to deploy it on your behalf. But believing in magic is not an investment strategy.
You don’t need a marketing agency or magic to succeed with SEO (i.e., to efficiently attract new business from free search engine traffic). All you need is great content on a well-built website (we’ll show you how easy it is and why attorneys are leaving the agency market to do this with LawLytics). For an in-depth primer that will set your firm up to make the best possible choices about search engine optimization, see our primer covering SEO for attorneys.
Review of FindLaw’s Conversion Optimization and Solutions
FindLaw’s website mentions “conversion optimization” and “conversion solutions” for law firm websites. It lumps “conversion optimization” in with SEO, but we’ll separate it for our discussion because it is a concept that is distinct from SEO. SEO is about getting clients to your website, and conversion optimization is about transforming them from website visitors into leads, and ultimately paying clients.
FindLaw does not explain what it does for “conversion optimization” but defines “conversion solutions” as tracking phone numbers and intake forms that “make it easy for potential clients to connect with you.”
To understand what FindLaw may be selling, let’s look at generally accepted definitions surrounding conversion. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action.
Like SEO, CRO refers to the website owned by the business; in this case, your law firm. For law firm websites, a conversion most often means that a qualified potential client who visits the website either calls the firm or fills out a form on the firm’s website. It can also mean the potential client engaged in a live chat (if the website has a chat feature), but only if the chat resulted in the visitor becoming a viable lead for the law firm.
A website’s conversion rate is determined by dividing the total number of conversions by the total number of unique human visitors to the website. The conversion rate is typically measured in monthly segments but can be tracked daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly as well.
There is insufficient evidence to make any general conclusions about the efficacy of FindLaw’s conversion optimization across its customers’ websites. However, we have seen examples that we believe would likely convert well, and examples that we believe would convert poorly.
When it comes to what FindLaw calls conversion solutions, we caution you to make sure that you own any “tracking numbers” on your firm’s website (or that your firm has a right to acquire those numbers).
Potential clients will often add the number they originally dial to their contacts on their mobile phones. If you don’t own the tracking number, your client may not be able to reach you in the future if the tracking number is disconnected or reassigned to another law firm or business.
Contrary to what FindLaw says on its website, tracking numbers have nothing to do with making it easy for potential clients to contact you. Tracking numbers have everything to do with making it easier to track and attribute phone calls to marketing modalities or campaigns. In fact, tracking numbers can make the client journey slightly more difficult. This occurs when:
- The tracking number changes or is no longer reachable; or
- The firm gives a client a different (non-tracking) number to call because tracking numbers are only reserved for new leads, and having clients continue to use tracking numbers obscures the firm’s numbers.
If you decide to allow FindLaw to use tracking numbers on behalf of your firm, make sure that it is not using the same tracking number on your website as it is in your directory listings. Using the same number blurs the line and makes it impossible for you to determine the value of either the directory or your website.
Review of the Non-Website Items Included With FindLaw Websites
Let’s briefly recap what’s included with a FindLaw website. According to the FAQs about FindLaw found on the company’s website as of October 17, 2019, the following are included:
We’ve addressed all but the last two items, which we’ll turn to now.
As a starting point of fact, FindLaw.com profiles are not part of your law firm’s website. They are part of FindLaw’s directory. Law firms can have FindLaw profiles without empowering FindLaw to manage the firm’s website. To say that an external profile is “included” in a law firm’s website can only mean that it’s included in the price of the website or package.
A FindLaw.com profile may or may not add value for a law firm. Here are the possibilities of what it might do:
- It may generate leads directly.
- It may cause leads to visit the firm’s website.
- It may do both.
- It may do neither.
The value will depend on factors including the firm’s location(s), practice type(s), the competition in FindLaw’s directory, and the directory’s Google rankings for relevant searches.
We are neutral about whether law firms should purchase profiles from legal directories (including FindLaw). If the purchase provides measurable value, then it’s a good investment. But the firm must have the ability to determine and track value. By “including” a profile with the firm’s website, the line may be blurred, and the law firm’s ability to measure return on investment compromised.
When the lines are blurred, your law firm is in a disadvantaged position. When the lines are clear, you’re empowered. By including a directory listing with a website, or vice versa, you may be trading transparency and insight for the convenience of a single bill or the notion that you’re getting a good deal.
For example, suppose your monthly spend with FindLaw, for a website with an included directory profile, is producing mediocre overall returns. You know this is true because the money you are paying FindLaw is not producing sufficient revenue. In this hypothetical, what if you knew the directory was producing results, but that your firm’s website was not? Wouldn’t you want to continue with the directory, but seek an alternative to FindLaw for your website?
But what if you lack the information to understand which is performing and which is not? You’d only have two choices:
- Discontinue service; or
Without clear information about the performance and value of these separate things, if you complain, you’ll be more likely to accept responses such as “our technicians will make some updates” or “you need to buy something else from us.”
If you agree to have a directory listing as a “feature” of your website and you are unable to quantify performance independently, you’ve put your firm’s marketing at the mercy of an agency that owns a directory that competes with your firm’s website. This can make you more dependent on continuing to pay the agency.
Here’s a hypothetical example of how it could happen:
You have a website and directory listings. Your lead volume is bad. You call to complain. The rep promises a fix. Your leads “magically” but temporarily go up. Once the storm of your complaint is weathered, the extra leads are diverted to another customer (your competitor) who is complaining. You might benefit from the spike when it’s time to triage your account, and you might suffer from the drought when other customers are being triaged.
And throughout the process, you’re still writing monthly checks, and you’re not building equity in marketing assets that you own. This means that you’ll be more dependent and likely continue to write the monthly check because, even in times of diminished leads, discontinuing service would mean terminating your law firm’s only (or primary) sources of online marketing.
This quagmire could lead to a lot of worry and frustration, but no clear path to fixing the problem. This, in turn, could result in you either spending even more money with the incumbent agency or quickly (and blindly) agreeing to jump to the next agency that comes along and pitches you a quick fix. And blindly switching agencies often leads to a rebooting of the cycle of fear, frustration, and spending. Rinse and repeat.
The cycle is easy to break if you understand how to avoid putting your firm’s marketing in compromising positions.
If your website is not coupled with other marketing services (whether directory listings, pay-per-click, or social media), you minimize the downside risk of any one of the marketing services failing to produce.
Review of FindLaw’s Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Services
FindLaw also sells pay per click (PPC) services to attorneys. PPC are ads that are sold in a bid marketplace. The winning bids for a given search are displayed in blocks of advertisements above and below the search engine results. For lawyers, PPC ads often attract less well-qualified, less educated and less affluent clients than organic search results.
PPC ads for lawyers are very expensive, and in many practice areas and locations, they’re cost-prohibitive. PPC advertising is disposable. When somebody clicks on your ad, your money is gone forever. Therefore it’s an expense rather than an investment. Dependence on PPC advertising puts law firms in severely compromised positions. For a more in-depth analysis of the pitfalls of PPC for lawyers, see our review of Scorpion Marketing, which is a prolific seller of PPC.
FindLaw’s website advertises PPC advertising services in a way that might undermine an attorney’s confidence in the company’s ability to effectively drive free (organic) traffic to the firm’s website (in other words, the efficacy of its SEO services). As of October 17, 2019, here’s FindLaw’s answer to the question of why lawyers should buy PPC:
We have no data about the efficacy of FindLaw’s PPC management or its fee structure. We also have no information about how it deals with the potential conflict of interest of bidding on behalf of competing law firms.
If you’re still convinced that the legal marketing agency model is for you, we hope that this review of FindLaw’s website services will help you ask the right questions, get the best information and set your firm up for the best chance of success.
On the other hand, if you’re tired of the agency model or don’t want to risk jumping into it, and if you want to spend less money and easily control and understand your website with software built exclusively for lawyers, then LawLytics is likely to provide you with a better experience and better long-term ROI.
Comparing Budgets and Benefits
We invite you to compare what you will get with LawLytics with what you get with FindLaw. We’re confident our platform and services compare favorably to FindLaw, and deliver more long-term value, more freedom, more control, and more flexibility for your law firm.
Moving your law firm website from FindLaw to LawLytics
Our process makes the migration easy and safe, resulting in:
No "orphaned" content
No loss of ranking
No loss of PNC conversion rate
No loss of organic traffic
No loss of PNC time on site
FAQs about switching from FindLaw to LawLytics
The following are common questions from attorneys considering moving their law firm’s website(s) from FindLaw to LawLytics. We invite you to schedule a demo so you can experience the differences and we can answer any other questions you may have.
What does it cost to move my website off of FindLaw?
Most migrations cost less than $700 to complete.
When should I cancel my FindLaw website?
Once your site is live on LawLytics, you will no longer need your FindLaw account for that site.
What if I’ve already cancelled my law firm’s FindLaw account before contacting LawLytics?
If your FindLaw website is still live, but you’ve already given them your notice of cancellation and have a date where your site will go offline before you first talk with us, please make sure to let us know that date so we can advise you whether there is enough time to go through the setup process and launch your website before your FindLaw account is deactivated.
If you’ve already canceled your FindLaw account and your website is currently offline, it’s helpful if you have your site files so we can pull any content that you own and that is worth saving. If you don’t have access to the files, we may be able to recover some or all of your site using various internet archives and caches.
Is there a penalty for cancelling with FindLaw?
Can I work with FindLaw and LawLytics at the same time?
Some law firms may benefit from maintaining a FindLaw directory listing as a supplement to their LawLytics website.
Once you’re a LawLytics member, we can help you understand the value of your FindLaw directory listings so you can make intelligent and informed choices about whether to keep your listings going forward.
What is your experience moving FindLaw sites to LawLytics?
Over the past seven years, we have successfully migrated many law firm websites from FindLaw to LawLytics. All of these migrations have been launched with no downtime or loss of web traffic for the firm.
How long does it take to complete the migration from FindLaw to LawLytics?
The time from LawLytics account creation to launch of your website can be as rapid as two weeks.