How to Build an Award-Winning Law Firm Website
Lawyerist Podcast #131 with Jess Birken
In this episode, Jess Birken, whose solo-practice website stands out among the top ten law firm websites of 2017, explains how she got that website built while keeping costs low.
In this episode, Jess Birken, whose solo-practice website stands out among the top ten law firm websites of 2017…lawyerist.com
Jess Birken focuses on helping nonprofits solve problems and get back to their mission.
Announcer: Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week, Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. And now, here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: And I am Aaron Street. This is Episode 131 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Jess Birken about how she built her award-winning website on a reasonable budget.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Ruby Receptionists, and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit CallRuby.com/Lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby.
Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Clio legal practice management software. Clio makes running your law firm easier. Try it for free today at Clio.com.
We’re going to chat with Jess in a minute about how she was able to build a website for her solo practice that won one of our Best Law Firm Websites of the Year awards this past year, and how she found a designer and came up with the ideas for it, et cetera. And how she was able to do so for a relatively inexpensive investment. I think her advice for how lawyer-
Sam Glover: Let me qualify inexpensive by the way. I think 4 to 5,000 dollars is what she wound up spending.
Aaron Street: Yes. Okay.
Sam Glover: So, yeah.
Aaron Street: Which, in fairness, is approximately the average.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Aaron Street: Which I think a lot of people don’t actually realize that there’s a fairly standard industry benchmark, and that’s more or less right around the norm for a solo or a small firm website. She took on a lot of the sourcing of talent and figuring out what she wanted herself. She definitely wasn’t a DIYer in the sense of buying a $20 a month Squarespace site and putting the images in herself and moving the widgets around herself. Not DIY in that sense, but she didn’t hire a traditional law firm website designer who can just know how to do this exact thing.
Sam Glover: I think what’s important to note about Jess is she has a very good sense of style, and she knew what she wanted. When it comes to whether you’re going to do it yourself of hire somebody, you have to have that. You have to have a very good idea of what you want, and you should be the kind of person that people recognize has a good sense of style and be willing to do all of that work. Yeah, we don’t necessarily think that applies to most lawyers.
Aaron Street: Yeah, I mean it’s all preamble to say that I’m really excited for this interview with Jess. I think everyone listening will get some good practical ideas about how to think about their website design and online marketing presence and things, but for the vast majority of small firm lawyers, taking so much into their own hands is probably not the right answer. And definitely a pure DIY solution where you’re coding your own WordPress website or doing something in Squarespace is the wrong answer for most people.
There’s certainly some for whom it’s appropriate, and we offer a solution kind of in that broad context, which is if you want our recommendation for free for a dedicated law firm website design service, we’ve got an online survey form you can fill out on Lawyerist where we will email you a customized recommendation based on your particular firm’s needs and interests and budget. We can match you with someone who will be able to solve your law firm website design needs.
Sam Glover: Yeah, basically, people have been asking us for years how to get a website. We’ve tried a few different things. What we finally done is we’ve reached out to web developers and designers who we would want to refer people to anyway, and they’ve agreed to work with the people that we send them. If you talk to us, we’ll try and give you a recommendation. I think, Aaron, you’ve got recommendations for people who want really sophisticated marketing strategies and are going to need really big complex websites to support that down to solos who just need a simple three, five or seven-page website.
Aaron Street: Yep. We have a variety of possible recommendations depending on what your particular needs are. We try to do a really good job of matching you with someone who will be a good fit for you and your firm. To find that assessment, if you’re interested in taking it … Again, it’s free. There’s no commitment. We just want to be able to match you with someone who can help you. You can either go to Lawyerist and click on the menu Best Law Firm Websites, and then you can click on the link to get a free assessment, or the link is directly in the show notes on this podcast page.
Sam Glover: Yeah. I think everybody’s going to be interested in hearing about how Jess went about this in the same way that the more you know about it, the better you’re going to feel about hiring somebody to do it for you. Or if you are somebody who, like Jess, has a pretty clear idea of what you want, and you are somebody who has a good sense of style and design, then you might just get inspired to go build one of the websites that wins an award from us or another contest. Here’s my conversation with Jess.
Jess Birken: I’m Jess Birken. I focus my practice on helping non-profits and arts organizations. I deal with their paperwork, so they can get back to the mission.
Sam Glover: Cool. Hi, Jess. Thanks for being with us.
Jess Birken: Thanks for having me.
Sam Glover: I’m always curious, and I think lots of people are, how do you get non-profits to pay you?
Jess Birken: Yeah, you know that is a really common question.
Sam Glover: I mean do you have to like constantly weed through or wade through people who want you to do work for free?
Jess Birken: Yeah. I mean if I had a nickel for every time I was offered a seat on a non-profit’s board, I would be very rich. That’s definitely true. I got to say my clients are actually really good at paying me. Bless them. This year after TBD Law, actually I instituted a new rule that I require a pretty sizeable trust deposit. I find that that has been really helpful in very quickly vetting people who are willing to write a check for your services or not.
Sam Glover: That’ll do it. Yeah.
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: You mention TBD law, so you’re joining us, or you joined us.
Jess Birken: Yep.
Sam Glover: You are also, people should know, one of the winners of our Best Law Firm Websites Contest. I think one of the more striking in the top 10.
Jess Birken: Aw. Thanks. That was a complete shock. I got like a tweet at like 10 o’clock at night from somebody saying, “Congratulations.” I was like, “What?”
Sam Glover: Well, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the process of getting that website because you’re a solo, right?
Jess Birken: Yes.
Sam Glover: Do you have any people who work with you?
Jess Birken: I’ve recently taken on a couple of interns, but I don’t have a paralegal or associates or any of that. I have two very part-time interns.
Sam Glover: Wait, so tell me about interns. Are these law students or …
Jess Birken: One is a recent college grad who wants to work in the non-profit sector. One is a current college student who thinks that he wants to go to law school.
Sam Glover: Got you. Are you trying to dissuade him?
Jess Birken: No.
Sam Glover: Awesome. Okay, so you’re a true solo with a little bit of help I guess. I think it’s the solos in general who are often the most intimidated by the idea of getting a website. I thought it might be helpful to walk through how you got yours, what you did to get it, and how it all it came out because the end result is really striking and awesome. At what point did you build a website or did you decide you needed a website? Was that right when you started your practice?
Jess Birken: Yeah. I mean I pretty much knew immediately that I was going to need and want a website. I was in a partnership before, and I was in charge of our website there.
Sam Glover: Got you.
Jess Birken: I have a teeny, tiny consulting business on the side, and I have a website there. It was just obvious to me that I was going to get a website.
Sam Glover: I mean, yes. It’s obvious to you and me. It isn’t always obvious to people, so I guess I feel like it’s worth asking the question. I mean normal people find people through websites.
Jess Birken: Yeah. I find that even though a lot of my business is word of mouth referrals, most often I talk to those folks, and they tell me that they looked at my website. My marketing guy tells me that people look at my website. I think that it’s really, today, it’s our calling card on the internet. It’s how people vet you even if their best friend said, “Oh, you’ve got to use Jess.” They want to know for themselves that this person is credible, that you know what you’re talking about, and also how to reach you if they don’t already have that information.
Sam Glover: Right. If I’m sitting down having coffee, and it comes up that I need help with something, and somebody recommends Jess Birken, the first thing I do is pull out my phone, Google you, and see what your website looks like.
Jess Birken: Yep.
Sam Glover: I don’t think people necessarily appreciate that the first impression that you make is often your website, actually it’s often your search results, but it’s your website before somebody even walks in the door. You just said marketing guy. Who’s your marketing guy?
Jess Birken: I work with a really amazing person named Leo, Leo Bogee. He’s at LJB3 Marketing. He’s been really instrumental in helping me kind of figure out my strategy. He’s someone that works in my co-working space and he and I became friends. I would just listen to him talk. He was saying things like, “Well, why do you get up in the morning? Why do you do the work that you do?” I was like, “Hmm.”
Sam Glover: When you started that sentence, I thought you were going to start throwing out a whole bunch of social media jargon. Those are good questions.
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: When you say working with him, is he on a retainer or does he bill you by the hour? What does he do for you and how frequently and what does that look like?
Jess Birken: He has a sort of graduated payment plan where depending on what phase you’re at in your business. If you’re a startup, it’s going to be smaller amount. If you’re doing more advanced things, you’re in a different bucket, and you’re paying more. I’m in the startup category. I pay him a monthly fee and he and his team have helped me make sure that my website is listed properly in all the directories. Just some of those basic nuts and bolts that most people aren’t thinking about and certainly I don’t have time or skills to deal with.
Then on the other side, just, yeah, sitting down and figuring out who are my ideal clients? Why do I like working with those people? Why do I just get up every day and keep doing this work? You know?
Sam Glover: So they’re kind of helping you figure out where the opportunities are and then making sure that you actually go after them, sounds like.
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: Cool. Okay, so you’re a true solo with a marketing person. Did that predate the website?
Jess Birken: No. I actually did the website on my own before joining up with Leo.
Sam Glover: How did you get started building a website?
Jess Birken: Well, I’ve got a young man in Canada that I’ve worked with previously. His name’s Chris Ryan. He’s really, really great. I am fairly creative and I know what I want, so I can tell him, “I want it to look like this. I want it to have these components,” but I don’t necessarily want to spend the time learning HTML or figuring out how to make my WordPress work.
Sam Glover: That’s okay.
Jess Birken: Yeah. Yeah. That’s just my preference. So I’ll work on the design or the wire framing and then have Chris implement it, and we’d go through a lot for iterations.
Sam Glover: When you say you already knew him, I think you found him through freelancer.com, right?
Jess Birken: Yes. Yeah, I had hired him previously through freelancer. He just really did a good job, and so I figured I could hire him directly.
Sam Glover: What does that look like? How do you hire somebody through a freelance website? That’s, honestly, it’s intimidating to me. I’m quite confident it’s equally intimidating for people who aren’t even sure how to get a website yet.
Jess Birken: Yeah. It’s a lot easier than you might think. They have pretty good instructions on the website. Essentially, you need to write a project brief that says, “Here’s the outcome I want. This is what I’m looking for. You know I want a website that’s one page with these sections or whatever.” Or, “I’m looking for someone to write the copy for a brochure for my law firm.” I mean really anything.
Sam Glover: Did you set the budget or did they make bids?
Jess Birken: When I was working through the freelancer.com website, I’m pretty sure that they submit bids, but it’s honestly been a long time since I’ve been on there.
Sam Glover: Then when you wanted to go back and rehire him, you didn’t go through freelancer.com.
Jess Birken: I didn’t.
Sam Glover: Are you supposed to?
Jess Birken: Probably.
Sam Glover: I don’t actually know the answer, so …
Jess Birken: I just figured they’re taking a cut, and I’d rather the whole amount go to the designer. Since he’s a known quantity to me after the first project, so …
Sam Glover: Got you. He obviously did a great job. What parts did he do and what parts did you do?
Jess Birken: I wrote all the copy. I chose the theme.
Sam Glover: Did he present you with options?
Jess Birken: I think he would have. I basically said, “I’m looking for a single nav.” Sorry, single navigation theme, which is the kind where you just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, and it doesn’t have all of those drop down menus with separate pages necessarily. He did give me some ideas, and then I also, because I’m interested in this stuff, I went on ThemeForest or whatever and started looking for other themes. I also like to do … I’ll find a website that I really like. It’s like, “Oh, I like how this looks, or I like how this works. I like the structure of this framework.” Then he would go out and look for themes that would deliver those same items.
Sam Glover: Got you. We’re sort of unintentionally skipping a step, which somehow at some point you bought BirkenLaw.com and managed to get it hooked up to things and working with email and stuff. Did you do all that yourself?
Jess Birken: I did.
Sam Glover: You just figured it out or …
Jess Birken: Yeah. I think I’ve owned that domain for a really long time because I actually used … Even though my law practice is relatively new as a solo, I had a business writing motions and appeals for other attorneys back in the day. I’m pretty sure I’ve had that domain in some dark corner for a really long time, but yeah, I’m sure I just went to Namecheap or GoDaddy or something and just paid for some hosting.
Sam Glover: I think that is another step that really intimidates people, but it’s actually quite easy to do.
Jess Birken: Yeah, and that’d be a great thing that you could actually put out on freelancer. If it’s scary, you could say, “I need somebody to go buy this domain for me.” Literally, you could have somebody do that for you.
Sam Glover: And 50 bucks sounds like it probably is way too much to pay for that.
Jess Birken: Yeah. I would have to say so.
Sam Glover: Like 30 bucks will probably get it done or less.
Jess Birken: Yeah. Including the cost of acquiring the domain, probably, so …
Sam Glover: It sounds like you pretty much knew what you wanted the end product to look like. How did the communication between you and your designer work on that? How did you accurately convey to him, “Here’s what I want it to look like in the end.”?
Jess Birken: Yeah, that’s always an interesting process. You know I’ve actually never spoken to Chris on the phone. We would just email back and forth. There would be screenshots. He hosted a temporary, in his sort of design area.
Sam Glover: Over at the test site?
Jess Birken: Yeah. He had a test site on his end of things. He would send a link like, “Okay, look at this. Is this how you want it?” Then I’d write back.
Sam Glover: Was this email, so it’s slowly over weeks? Or was it like in pretty much quick real time?
Jess Birken: It was definitely slowly over weeks because I was trying to deal with my clients all along the way.
Sam Glover: Okay.
Jess Birken: I’m sure he could’ve moved a lot faster if I hadn’t been so slow, because he’s very fast in general.
Sam Glover: Got you. All right, so you hired a pro to help you with the design, really to implement your vision. How’d you get the pictures done? They’re good pictures.
Jess Birken: Thank you. Yeah, actually I love those pictures. I wish I could look like that forever and never have to update those photos.
Sam Glover: I know, but like in a few years you got to it again-
Jess Birken: Totally.
Sam Glover: … and cross your fingers.
Jess Birken: Yeah. I worked with this photographer whose name is Kelly, Kelly Loverud. He is amazing. He does really cool arty portraits. The reason I found him was because I work with the Minneapolis Beard and Mustache Club, which I highly encourage everyone to Google. They are a phenomenal group of guys that are really into extravagant beard and mustache expressions. I don’t know how else to frame that.
Sam Glover: That’s hilarious.
Jess Birken: But all of their members have these really beautiful business cards with their really beautiful portraits on them of their mustaches and beards in all their glory.
Sam Glover: That’s awesome.
Jess Birken: I wanted to know who their photographer was. That’s how I found Kelly, and he’s great at his job.
Sam Glover: This is kind of a theme, like to figure out … to get what you want, go find things that you like, and then try to figure out people who can either do it for you or who did it and then hire them.
Jess Birken: Yeah. Honestly, I’m not a big believer in reinventing the wheel. Nobody needs to reinvent the wheel on any of this stuff. Find something you like and try and make your own version.
Sam Glover: I feel like it is important to express your … like to have a message that you want to convey about your firm and to embed that in your brand and your website, but none of that requires you to go spend $15,000 on a designer.
Jess Birken: Oh, God, no.
Sam Glover: How much did you spend? Are you willing to … on the website design.
Jess Birken: The website I want to say it was under $1,000.
Sam Glover: How about the photos?
Jess Birken: The photos were also under $1,000.
Sam Glover: Cool. You have a logo. You have a cool bee logo.
Jess Birken: Yeah. Yeah.
Sam Glover: Tell me about getting that.
Jess Birken: This is a great invention.
Sam Glover: Designers, by the way, just tune out for a minute. Plug your ears.
Jess Birken: Totally plug your ears. This is the graphic design version of our AI takeover conversations. There’s a company out there called Tailor Brands where you essentially answer a few questions, write a sentence or two about your company, look at a bunch of fonts, and pick things you like, things you don’t like. Their little algorithm spits out seven or eight different logos for you to choose from. Then you can just keep doing that over and over again until you find something that you like.
I found my logo that way. I think it’s good. It’s good enough. Certainly, my clients aren’t hiring me because of my logo.
Sam Glover: I mean I think a logo is a good thing to have.
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: So, that you have a thing that reinforces that you are not … I mean lots of lawyers just have like they’ve centered the name of their law firm at the top of a blank piece of page.
Jess Birken: Like a scale.
Sam Glover: Yeah. Maybe they pulled some Microsoft Word clip art, but it’s not important what your logo is as long as you have one so that you can … It’s like stamping your name on everything basically. It’s a little eerie. I went to the website, which is TailorBrands.com, and don’t worry we’ll stick some of these links in the show notes, but it asked for the name of your company. I type in Lawyerist. It says, “Give us your tag line.” We help lawyers start, manage, and grow small firms. I had to shorten that up because it thought that was too long. Then it asks you to explain in some words what your company does. Then I got to write it out. We help small firms start, manage, and grow their firms. Then it asks you to select, which fonts you like and do you want one that’s basically an icon, or a letter based.
One of the options that popped up was very close to the logo we actually have, which makes me feel like I’m this very predictable person apparently.
Jess Birken: I think it’s just that their algorithm is good.
Sam Glover: Maybe it googled Lawyerist and saw the actual logo. I don’t know. I put all this work into it and now I feel silly about it. Okay, we need to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors, and when we come back we’ll keep talking about how Jess got her website.
This podcast is supported by Ruby Receptionists. As a matter of fact, Ruby answers our phones at Lawyerist, and my firm was a paying Ruby customer before that. Here’s what I love about Ruby. When I’m in the middle of something, I hate to be interrupted, so when the phone rings, it annoys me, and that often carries over into the conversation I have after I pick up the phone, which is why I’m better off not answering my own phone. Instead, Ruby answers the phone, and if the person on the other end asks for me, a friendly, cheerful receptionist from Ruby calls me and asks if I want them to put the call through. It’s a buffer that gives me a minute to let go of my annoyance and be a better human being during the call.
If you want to be a better human being on the phone, give Ruby a try. Go to CallRuby.com/Lawyerist to sign up, and Ruby will waive the $95 setup fee. If you aren’t happy with Ruby for any reason, you can get your money back during your first three weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll stick around, but since there is no risk, you might as well try.
Aaron Street: Imagine what you could do with an extra eight hours per week. You could invest in marketing your firm. You could spend more time helping clients in need, or you could catch your daughter’s soccer game. That’s how much time legal professionals save with Clio, the world’s leading practice management software. With Clio, tracking time, billing, and matter management are fast and easy, giving you more time to focus on what really matters. And Clio is a complete practice management platform, with plenty of tools and over 50 integrations to help you automate daily tasks such as document generation and court calendaring. See how the right software can make it easier to manage your practice. Try Clio for free today at Clio.com.
Sam Glover: I saw that you just added a video to your website.
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: Which one of our other finalists I think who … I think they’re in the runner-up category on our websites competition is Davis Law. Davis [Senseman 00:21:58] has been on our podcast. She has a very … like a moving picture website, and your video kind of reminds me of hers. By any chance is that the same videographer or no?
Jess Birken: I don’t believe it’s the same videographer, but I know from talking with Leo that having video is … Google likes that. There’s an element of people are going to start doing that because Google likes that, but then there’s also the element of it makes you seem like a real person and it’s someone can vet you and make a judgment about who you are by watching a little video. I think that works with Davis’ website too. I like the way … Theirs is pretty silent, but it gives you a sense of who they are and how they are at their office.
Sam Glover: Yeah, and yours is the same. Like seeing you smile, talking to people, interacting, it humanizes you, and Google does like it because it makes people stay on your page longer. One of the algorithms Google uses is how fast do people bounce back to Google after clicking the link to your website. A video makes them stay longer. If you’re making them stay for a good reason, then that’s super valuable. Your marketing person told you to get video. How did you find your videographer?
Jess Birken: I’ve worked with Gordon Bird who is a phenomenal videographer. I was so excited with how it came out.
Sam Glover: Had you seen other videos of his first?
Jess Birken: No.
Sam Glover: Oh, so this was … You went in blind on this one.
Jess Birken: I went in completely blind.
Sam Glover: Okay.
Jess Birken: Leo recommended Gordon. I trusted Leo, so I took that recommendation. While we were in the middle of sort of the video process, someone else I know who claims to be a videographer sent me a vlog that they did. I was scared. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. This is horrible, and I’m afraid now that my video is going to be horrible.” So I googled Gordon and found his YouTube channel, and was immediately reassured because all of his video was amazing. I really like how mine turned out.
Sam Glover: Yours did turn out really well. There may be three types of lawyer videos I think. There’s the really well produced but ultimately shitty lawyer videos that are just boring as hell. It’s like you could watch paint dry all day rather than watch those really slick lawyer videos that just have no soul in them. There are videos like yours, which are the opposite. They feel very warm and there’s a connection. Those are good I think. Then there’s a lot of lawyers who think they ought to be videotaping themselves.
Jess Birken: Oh, my God. I know. It’s like the camera quality is like a smartphone and the sound is horrible.
Sam Glover: I’m just going to go on record saying that you should not be doing your own video. At a minimum, get help from a professional on developing the concept around your videos, getting a good lighting and audio set up. I mean yours is professionally done, so you have great video, great lighting, great audio. You have good quality across the board. If you have to pick one of those things it goes audio, and then lighting, and then worry about your camera. You can have an iPhone, but if you’ve got a good sound recorder and good lighting it will come out fine.
Jess Birken: Yeah, and I, again, I think I did that video for under $1,000. You don’t have to blow 10 grand and have some big production crew. I work with non-profits, right? I’m not in the most lucrative area of law and we still made something that I’m really proud of. It doesn’t have to be super intimidating or super expensive.
Sam Glover: Who wrote all the copy for your website?
Jess Birken: I did.
Sam Glover: Yeah?
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: That’s where a lot of lawyers get hung. They know they want to write it themselves because they want it to come out exactly right, and then they never write it.
Jess Birken: Yeah, and I think a lot of lawyers write like lawyers too. That would be another thing that you could easily work with someone to outsource through freelancer or some other way.
Sam Glover: Yeah. How did you keep yourself to it though? How long did it take you to do it?
Jess Birken: Well, there were pages that were more important than others. As you go through the website, like the About Me page, that’s pretty important.
Sam Glover: Yep.
Jess Birken: I did that first.
Sam Glover: There are plenty of statistics to show that after the Home page, that’s where everybody goes.
Jess Birken: Right. It’s your calling card on the internet, right? Some things are just regurgitating an article or something on topic. It’s not that complicated. I mean I really focused on the About page and the Home page, and making sure that the copy is speaking to my clients instead of just talking about why they should hire me, I guess.
Sam Glover: I sometimes think the purpose of a website is not to tell potential clients about you, but to help them identify themselves as your ideal client. Right? You’re helping them … The results should not be, “Wow, I want to find a way to work with this lawyer.” The results should be, “I am the perfect client for this lawyer.”
Jess Birken: Yeah.
Sam Glover: Which amounts to a phone call in either case, but I feel like if you give them the message that they should … that I’m the perfect client for this lawyer, they’re not going to stop until they’ve hired you.
Jess Birken: I am a big Seth Godin fan.
Sam Glover: Okay.
Jess Birken: He talks a lot about … If you don’t know who Seth Godin is, he’s sort of a mover and shaker in marketing-
Sam Glover: Crawl out from your box and check it out.
Jess Birken: Yeah, Google Seth Godin. He’s amazing. He talks about how you should sort of write or produce or market to the smallest group possible. You want to have your content or your page or whatever it is reflect the kind of person that you want to attract. Right? So don’t write to everybody. Don’t try and market to everybody. My website isn’t trying to reach every non-profit under the sun. People in higher ed are not going to hire me. People at big hospitals are not going to hire me. The people that want to hire me are entrepreneurial. They’re staring something. They want to do something. They want to make a change in the world right now. They want to connect with someone who is a real person and not necessarily a big corporate entity.
Sam Glover: Ruth Carter and I talked about this on the podcast a bit too. She posts photos of herself riding subways with no pants on, which doesn’t necessarily have to be everybody’s brand, but the point is well taken that … The thing is lots of lawyers are afraid to express a personality and soulless personality, less beige lawyer law firm websites are a penny a million. Not even a dime a dozen, and they’re completely forgettable. I mean you’re right. If you help clients get to know who you are and identify them as a good fit for the specific niche that you’re going after, then you stand out. You become memorable. You make an impression. They’re more likely to hire you. Yeah, there are a lot of people who won’t hire you because you’re not aiming at them, but I think it still makes a difference.
Good on you for doing your own copywriting. I noticed on your website too you also take credit card payments through your website. I happen to know that is also a really intimidating thing for a lot of lawyers. A, why do you accept credit card payments? B, how’d you go about getting it on your website?
Jess Birken: Why, because 97% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
Sam Glover: There’s so many people, lawyers who are still sending out paper invoices. I don’t know how other people manage their mail, but here’s what I do with the mail that comes into my house, which is either my wife or I, usually my wife, picks it up and puts it in a pile. Every two or three months we go through that pile.
Jess Birken: Yep.
Sam Glover: So if you send us a bill, like I’m sorry, and I realize it’s not super responsible, but almost nothing important comes through the mail to our house. That’s why it just gets dumped in a pile. At work, I don’t actually even check the mail. I think Aaron checks the mail, but I wouldn’t know. Nothing important has ever come through the mail here unless I know it’s coming. Invoices, by the mail, expecting people to pay by check, that’s just not a great way to do it, I don’t think.
Jess Birken: Yeah. I use LawPay. I love LawPay. It makes it so much easier. I have tried using other online payment structures and that is okay, but it’s a little … You have to do a little bit more jumping through the hoops with the accounting.
Sam Glover: LawPay basically makes your client pay the transaction fee, right? Is that how it works?
Jess Birken: I guess so. What I know for sure it that they don’t take any fees for the transaction out of any account other than your operating account.
Sam Glover: Oh, I see. They’re just set up to pull it out of your checking account.
Jess Birken: Right. My clients can make a deposit into my trust account online with a credit card, but the merchant fee for that transaction comes out of my operating account. Or they pay it. I have no idea. I just know that these payments occur and I basically have a link on my website that goes to my LawPay page, which is branded with my logo so-
Sam Glover: You didn’t really have to set this up other than upload your logo in LawPay?
Jess Birken: No, it is deadly easy.
Sam Glover: Yeah. Okay.
Jess Birken: There are no lawyers that should be not using this. I mean it’s so easy.
Sam Glover: It looks like people just, if they want to pay on an invoice, they type in the amount of money, they type in the invoice number, and they pay.
Jess Birken: Yeah, and actually I use Clio. LawPay integrates with Clio, and so it will automatically update the invoice as paid.
Sam Glover: Oh, wow. Really?
Jess Birken: Yeah. I get an email notification from LawPay that, “Hey, this client just paid you however many dollars.” Great. Then I get an email updated from Clio saying, “Hey, this invoice payment was recorded in this amount.”
Sam Glover: How did you get the link on your website?
Jess Birken: When you’re in the editor, you right click, paste … No. It’s really not that difficult.
Sam Glover: It is another one of those things though that if you needed to hire somebody to do it, it should cost five bucks.
Jess Birken: Oh, yeah. Super easy. Super small project for a freelance web person to do for you.
Sam Glover: Having been through all this process, and getting an objectively great website out of it, is there anything you would have done differently or any big hurdles you ran into along the way that would be helpful for people to know about?
Jess Birken: You know it’s been pretty easy. The biggest hurdle I think was page load times, which is getting pretty ticky-tacky. [crosstalk 00:32:23]
Sam Glover: Well, it is, but I totally was like, “Jess, you got to work on that.”
Jess Birken: Yeah. Well, and I didn’t realize my page load times were so poor until I was recognized by Lawyerist, and thank you again. So picking a host that actually can handle … The host I was using, no matter what adjustments we did on our end, it just … the request wasn’t even going to their server. I ended up switching website hosts because I was like, “I got to have a page load time that’s better than 15 seconds.”
Sam Glover: Yeah, it was pretty slow. To give people an idea what we’re talking about, so if you think about it … and this is especially true for mobile. I don’t remember what the time is, but if people don’t see something happening in say a tenth of a second, they’ll leave.
Jess Birken: Right.
Sam Glover: So, A, something needs to be on the page in front of them within about a tenth of a second, but everything needs to wrap up in a quick enough time that we don’t have time to go, “Ah, forget it.” Let’s call it under two seconds, basically, is when your page needs to be functioning and loaded. That’s what Jess is talking about. It is, it’s really important and it matters. Those really cheap web hosts work great until you win a contest and then hundreds of people a day are visiting your website and they very quickly get overwhelmed. Sorry about that. Kind of our bad. But that’s what makes the difference. You can use Hostgator or Bluehost or the cheap ones fine, but once you actually are starting to get traffic to your website or once you start caring about page speed, you need to upgrade. Who did you end up going with?
Jess Birken: I use Flywheel.
Sam Glover: Oh, okay.
Jess Birken: I really like them because they will migrate your site for you, which that’s an intimidating process-
Sam Glover: It is.
Jess Birken: … even for somebody who’s techie like me.
Sam Glover: It’s intimidating for me. We just did it recently. It never goes perfectly smoothly, but it often goes smoother than you think it will.
Jess Birken: Yeah. That’s the outcome you’re hoping for.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jess Birken: What I like about them is that they can really handle … I mean my site is dinky. Right? There is no reason-
Sam Glover: It’s not dinky, but it is small.
Jess Birken: It’s small. Even with all the images on it, it should be able to load very quickly. Flywheel offers, I think it’s called the content delivery service.
Sam Glover: Yep. CDN. Content delivery network.
Jess Birken: Yeah, network, where they’ll basically make it faster based on where people are located for your page to load. That’s a super lay person definition, but that’s an option that-
Sam Glover: No, that’s right.
Jess Birken: A lot of the managed hosting websites don’t offer. They don’t offer it at my level I guess. Yeah, so I been really happy with Flywheel.
Sam Glover: Cool. We sometimes recommend WP Engine for the same reason because they … Essentially, what you’re trying to get is you’re trying to spend less money than you would to get somebody like me who’s obsessive about page speed to come in and optimize your site. You’re trying to spend a little bit less money like that, but you want more speed and responsiveness and you want a little bit of expertise coming from the people who are managing your website host, you’re hosting server. They can start recommending stuff like that.
Even with me, a lot of stuff that they recommend, I’m like, “I don’t know what that means but it sounds good. Good ahead and do it.”
Jess Birken: Right.
Sam Glover: I mean there’s a lot of stuff that I can do, but they’ll be like, “We’re going to change your rendering engine from blah blah to blah blah.” I’m like, “I don’t know. It sounds good. Fine. Go. Do it.”
Jess Birken: Yeah. I definitely recommend managed hosting because I’ve had the other kind where you just have somebody who’s, you know, some friend with a server hosting it for you. Then all of a sudden some image on your website gets taken and linked to by some other weird site, and all of a sudden your site’s crashing. You’re like, “What’s going on?”
Sam Glover: There’s stuff you can do to prevent all of that but you need a knowledgeable person helping you manage it.
Jess Birken: Yeah, and why would you want to spend time doing that when you can pay 10 bucks a month or whatever reasonable price for managed hosting. It’s a no-brainer.
Sam Glover: Anything else? Any other hurdles that you encountered? Lessons learned? Philosophical observations?
Jess Birken: I think it’s been interesting to me … I think lawyers are paying too much for their websites, especially small folks.
Sam Glover: And getting too little off them.
Jess Birken: And getting too little.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jess Birken: I think there is a lot of stuff that’s marketed to us, like this is for lawyers. Like have big company’s going to make you a website and it’s only going to cost you $10,000. You don’t need to necessarily do it that way. If you’re a big firm and you got a lot going on, maybe, but I would just encourage people who are in the solo small community to not be afraid to just work with somebody to do something small that kicks ass. I mean my site is totally a shoe-string budget site. Like I had some company contact me after the Lawyerist thing and they’re like, “Well, I hope you didn’t pay too much for that website …”
Sam Glover: Course.
Jess Birken: “… because it’s like a $60 WordPress theme you’ve got on there.”
Sam Glover: Whatever.
Jess Birken: I wrote back. I was like, “Yeah, since I made it myself. I’m pretty much okay with it. Thanks though.”
Sam Glover: I would say to shop smart. I mean there are definitely websites that are supporting sophisticated marketing strategies that need to cost 50 grand or 10 or 15.
Jess Birken: Yes.
Sam Glover: But you’re right, there are a lot of lawyers who are buying a $15,000 website who don’t need one, and what they’re getting is a hundred dollar website that they didn’t realize. It depends on what your goals are. If your goals are completely getting all your clients through search engine optimization and online marketing, you are going to be spending a shit ton of money, but it’s probably not on website design. It’s probably on crazy just ongoing AB testing non-stop of your website. You may not have the best looking website, but you’re probably caring a lot more about how it performs. If you just want a good looking, simple, five, seven page website, yeah, a couple few thousand dollars should get you a pretty good one if you shop smart.
Well, thanks, Jess. If people want to see Jess’ website … I just went before we started recording. It still looks fantastic. [crosstalk 00:38:39]
Jess Birken: Page load times are good.
Sam Glover: Page load times are pretty good. It’s BirkenLaw.com, and obviously we’ll stick the link in the website too. Thanks for being with us today.
Jess Birken: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of The Lawyerist Podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit Lawyerist.com/Podcast, or LegalTalkNetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcasts are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and you can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own, and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.