Most people come to an attorney’s site simply to get more information about the attorney. But some find their way to the attorney’s site by looking for forms, or legal guides, or even online services. An attorney who sets his/her site up as a resource rather than just a resume may find extra opportunities to turn visitors into clients.
As a public law librarian, I can attest that a lot of people in need of legal services think that they just need to submit a form somewhere as a solution. Naturally when they hit Google, they plug in the name of that form or motion, hoping they will find it for free. They may often find non-attorneys providing forms or sample pleadings. Many sites either charge money for forms or, like this site, make the user navigate carefully to find the free forms amidst the requests to buy other forms. Some sites even offer sample contract clauses or corporate agreements. If you are an attorney offering forms on your site, you will have more credibility on the forms you supply, but of course you must also state proper disclaimers on their usage.
Many sites also provide legal guides, just as this site is mainly a guide on free legal marketing tools. They can vary in presentation from the eclectic and eccentric ‘lectric law library to the more scholarly Cornell Legal Information Institute to the more commercially-driven Nolo site. The tone you present can certainly vary, but for an attorney’s purposes, normally legal guides give broad overviews of topics but assume that most readers will eventually still want to hire a lawyer to help them apply the law to their particular case. With sites like lawyers.com, freeadvice.com, and findlaw.com, you can easily see that the idea is to give information but encourage the hiring of an attorney.
Guides to the law don’t have to take the format of short articles that you see on most of the sites mentioned above. If you practice criminal law, you might get some inspiration from the comic book approach of The Illustrated Guide to the Law or the practitioner textbook approach of The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook. Some sites even hone in on a specific topic and provide extensive annotations. See how this lawyer takes on an interpretation of the Constitution, as opposed to how its done in The Founders Constitution site, or the Legal Information Institute. If you want case law annotations written by professors and attorneys that you can actually use on your own site, check out the web app casetext.com.
Some lawyers go even further than just presenting the kinds of materials that are useful for research and litigation in actual cases. A new trend that has been slowly creeping up over the years is virtual lawyering, in which the lawyer actually provides some type of direct service to a client online. The Florida Bar Journal recently published an article about the pros and cons of having a virtual law practice. As an attorney I had looked into opening a virtual law firm a few years ago. In my research at the time, I found that the biggest drawback was not knowing how accepting clients would really be of the limitations of exclusively online representation. Despite any written disclaimers or limitations stated in the attorney/client representation agreement, the client could still believe that he/she was entitled to all the services provided in a traditional arrangement. Then a bar complaint could ensue, and normally the client’s perception of the whole arrangement carries a great deal of weight. Because so many clients still will want in-person interaction with their attorney at certain points, some scoff at how technology advocates want to disrupt the legal profession with their start-up efforts.
If you are willing to try and make clear to a potential client the limits of a virtual law practice, there are certainly a great deal of savings that come with leaving a physical office behind. A blog which covers this field nicely is Elawyering. There are surely many advantages in allowing clients to access documents and calendars in the cloud at their convenience. It will be up to the attorney to have a good vetting process at client intake to ascertain if the potential client has enough tech savviness to be satisfied with what can be provided online.