The other day, Gyi and I were talking about law firm websites and law blogs, and whether lawyers ought to combine the two. I’ve come out strongly in favor of keeping blogs separate from websites, but many folks disagree with me just as strongly.

I’m not changing my mind about that, but Gyi thinks there is a third option: just start a blog, and don’t worry about the website. I agree.

Blogging is better for bringing in potential clients

A law firm website has one primary purpose: getting visitors to contact you. Websites also have secondary purposes like providing your address so people can find your office and mail things to you, but if there were no hope of getting clients by putting up a website, few would bother. On its own, though, a static website isn’t very good at attracting visitors, unless you are doing something else to bring them in, like advertising or hiring sketchy SEO consultants.

But what is it about a website that convinces people to call? Actually, I think most people who get to a law firm website just want to know whether you can help them, and if so, how to contact you. I’m not even sure people care about the first part. They just fill out the first contact form or call the first phone number they see. I haven’t practiced consumer law in over a year, but I still get several calls a week from people who want me to sue a debt collector or a landlord.

And that’s what has me convinced Gyi is right. I don’t have a website anywhere that says I sue debt collectors; all I have is a consumer law blog that talks a lot about debt collection and other consumer issues. But it doesn’t have my contact information. I even removed the little bio blurb at the end of my posts. The only indication I even write for Caveat Emptor is my grayed-out byline. I even run big, conspicuous ads for lawyers who actually do sue debt collectors. And still they call.

This is at least good anecdotal evidence that blogging is effective enough on its own. If you can do a good job blogging, you don’t have to have a website and spend a bundle on SEO. Just put your contact information in the sidebar, add a page about your practice, and that ought to do it.

Caveat emptor

I have gotten lots of business from my blog over the years, I have also had to sift through a lot of people who just want free advice, or who want to sue Jesus and President Obama for allowing a bird to take a dump on their shoulder while they walked under a tree. As Scott Greenfield often (and correctly) points out, social media and quality referrals don’t necessarily go together.

I also don’t know for sure whether my website still plays a role in those phone calls. My law firm website and my personal website, are found primarily by people searching for me by name. It is quite possible that they see my byline on Caveat Emptor, search for me to get my contact information, then call. Is it possible that they wouldn’t call if my phone number were in the sidebar of my blog, instead of on a separate website? Possibly, but I doubt it.

Using a blog as your main web presence

If you are going to take Gyi’s advice and use a blog as your primary web presence, I have a couple of ideas on how you ought to do it.

First, read this post, and don’t start a blog unless you (1) know what you are getting into, and (2) are willing to commit to it.

Second, make it a blog, not a law firm website. Ban sales pitches and prominent “hire me!!!” graphics. Give it a decent name (i.e., not San Dimas Personal Injury Law Blog), focus on generating great content, and forget about marketing. Marketing will happen on its own if you write great content that people want to read and link to and engage the blogosphere.

Feel free to use a darker color than I do for your byline, though. Maybe even include your picture and a bio blurb footer on your posts.

Include your phone number and a contact form in your blog’s sidebar, but not necessarily at the top. If people are willing to take an extra two or three steps to search for my phone number, they will certainly be willing to scroll down your blog a bit.

Put an About page on your blog (make sure readers can find it easily) and use it to describe your practice and (more importantly) the clients you want to represent. A big picture and a little biographical statement at the bottom of the page would be nice, too.

Step 3: profit!

If you can generate great content, and if you can do it consistently over time, you will end up with a great web presence, and it might even become a good, durable source of referrals.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelivelygirl/5261389796/)