Is your Web site so 1999 that it’s holding your firm back? Jonathan Thrope takes on law firm Web sites in his article Still Loading: Law Firms Lag Behind the Rest of Corporate America on the Web.

In general, law firms are behind the curve compared to corporate America, retail America, anything America when it comes to technology. And, there is a reason for it: Technology, both hardware and software, is expensive in both time and money, and it is difficult to articulate to lawyers why they need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more, for every new upgrade or roll-out.

Web sites are no different. We’re not selling widgets as an industry, we’re selling services. How then do you begin to communicate to a lawyer the value of a $40,000 – $1 million investment in a new Web site when they’re not selling a product? When the most profitable firms in the country make American Lawyer’s “worst” list of Web sites, the argument that we must upgrade to keep up with the “Lathams” loses steam.

I agree with Mr. Thrope that a firm’s Web site needs to be more than just an on-line brochure. The true value of a Web site is not about the look or “brand,” or how well you can “differentiate” yourselves from the competition, but the dynamic back-end which allows you to control and disseminate the information your clients need to read, and, better yet, to drive new readers (potential clients) to your site.

So before you get caught up in a 2.0 upgrade, how’s your 1.5 doing? Is your Web site database driven and does it allow the reader to easily jump from an attorney’s bio, to his or her recent articles, to their upcoming events, and then subscribe to your newsletter? Is your Web site uncluttered, easy on the eyes, and intuitive to navigate?

Most people coming directly to your Web site are looking for an attorney’s bio, an office address, or how to submit a resume. Everything after that is the hook that gets them to stay, look around, dig a bit deeper, learn something new, and keep you “top of mind” when they need your services.

So what will the reader find on your site? Is all the news about your firm, attorney promotions, new hires, new office openings and the like? When is the last time your news section had something new on it? Are your attorneys writing about the issues that keep your clients awake at 3:00 a.m., googling for a solution? And while I think it’s great that your firm has 50 blogs, when half of them haven’t been updated since the beginning of summer, well ….

If we as legal marketers cannot manage the basics, it will be hard to up-sell the attorneys a 2.0 model. And while my site has a long, long, long way to go, I am focused on taking the steps necessary to prepare us for a major upgrade down the road.

But as an industry? I say we’ve come a long way.

(part 2 – selling the updgrade to your attorneys)