From Word-of-Mouth to the Web: The Online Referral Chain [Guest Post]

This is a guest post by Stephan Roussan, the founder of ICVM Group.


“I don’t need to update my website, because all of my business comes from referrals.”


This is one of the most common excuses for having an outdated or neglected website – or for lacking one altogether. But in today’s online world, it’s a risky stance that will cost you future business.


We admit it, it might have worked for him.

Personal referrals and word-of-mouth may have been enough to sustain a law practice in the past, but that is quickly changing. With little exception, the first thing potential clients do is visit your website to learn more about you – even if they first heard about you from a friend.

The Modern Referral Chain Requires An Online Presence

With legal fees today, fewer are the clients who will simply take someone else’s word for it and hire you without further due diligence. Given the financial investment required, and what may be at stake in the outcome of the matter, online research has moved front and center in the evaluation process. If the general population today isn’t willing to buy a toaster without reading a host of online reviews, they will certainly not be hiring lawyers without similar scrutiny.


Worst. Law Firm Website.

If you’re still not convinced, don’t forget that there are also other audiences who may be frequenting your website. Opposing counsel, bar association peers, potential recruits, firm alumni and members of the media are all routine visitors of law firm websites. It’s in your best interest to have it reflect the level of your expertise.

Word-Of-Mouth Is Necessary, but Not Sufficient, for an Effective Referral Network

The 2014 National Marketing Effectiveness Survey concludes that the traditional law firm word-of-mouth marketing model needs an accompanying online component to be at its most effective. Here’s why:

  • Websites are always available, even when you’re not working.
  • A website can further warm a lead, bringing in-depth information that informs audiences about your practice, moving along the conversation. Potential leads might then be able to ask about specific questions or matters you have handled, advancing the conversation toward an opportunity to close.
  • A good website not only reflects well on the firm but also on the person who referred them to it. There is a professional obligation to look your best when another party sends an opportunity your way.

You Have No Excuse For An Ugly Website

With current technology, making your website look its best has never been easier, less expensive or less time consuming. High cost and time investment are no longer excuses for inaction. Here are a few guidelines you should follow:

  • A good site is well-executed, professionally-designed, has up-to-date biographies for all of your attorneys and is optimized to display as well on mobile devices as it does on desktop computers.
  • A better site has the “good” criteria above, and also pulls in additional relevant content like by-lined articles and representative matters within the appropriate locations throughout the site.
  • The best site has all the “good” and “better” criteria, and also uses a combination of functional elements and richer content to help show – not just tell – how your firm creates beneficial outcomes for clients. Detailed case studies, blogs, video content, tabbed biography and practice displays, and an internal search capability are hallmarks of the best law firm websites. Providing email and page sharing tools will allow your visitors to propagate additional referrals.

A firm’s website is a key location to showcase your work and to keep existing clients engaged. And existing clients use websites more than you might think. Even if they have worked with you on a certain matter in the past, they may be deciding whether or not to use your firm again for another matter. Your website can help them make that determination.

In the end…

It doesn’t necessarily matter how someone got to your site – whether they Googled it or typed the address directly into a desktop or mobile device. What does matter is that one way or another, people will research you online and it’s in your firm’s best interest to make the best possible impression… one that is on par with how you would present yourself in person.