Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
For the modern day Scottish solicitor, marketing a property and performing the conveyancing for its sale go hand in hand. Prior to the 1960s, solicitors in Scotland faced little or no competition in this market and many firms relied heavily on the income from this type of business.
Then, the inevitable happened: an invasion from the south. An invasion not of men on horseback nor armies of tanks but of a concept: the Estate Agent. Armed with modern tools and gimmicks the estate agent was able to gain a foothold in the lucrative property market much to the dismay of the profession. Solicitors, wholly unprepared for such an attack began to lose ground quickly.
In the early 1970s solicitors began to rally together, firstly in Aberdeen and then in Edinburgh, creating "solicitors property centres", a one-stop shop for marketing property and providing legal services in a particular area (see the overall Scottish Solicitors Property Centres site at http://www.sspc.co.uk). Competition today is fierce in the legal market, notably so from banks and other financial institutions. Despite this, the "solicitors property centre" has in many parts of Scotland been a huge success and is already expanding. According to its website, the Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre (ESPC) had 92% of the market share in Edinburgh in 2000, a sales value for the same year of £1.4 billion and presently has 265 member firms and receives over 8,000 visits to its website a day. The ESPC has already expanded down south to Newcastle (see the Solicitors Property Shop at http://www.sps.net) and is advising Australian lawyers on how they can implement a similar system there.
The internet offers a truly level playing field. There are no limitations on the size of a website and a small firm need no longer remain so online. In fact, many of the larger firms do not really practise in this area and so did not score well in this particular survey. We will however be providing another survey that does not give particular prominence to property-based sites in the next issue of the newsletter, in which the larger firms will doubtless obtain higher scores.
I have used the same scheme as Delia's previous English and Irish "Best Sites" surveys with a larger number of marks (10 instead of 5) available for the "something extra" which, in this case, has been heavily weighted to the property aspects of the site.
In summary, marks have been awarded as follows:
This gives a theoretical maximum of 25 points.
Over 140 sites were surveyed and the vast majority were involved in residential property in some way. While some firms have opted for a simple brochure guide to their services, others have tried to turn their site into a valuable resource for their practice. There is a strong tie with the solicitors property centres on each of the sites which is to be encouraged if firms wish to attract new clients seeking to purchase property being marketed by another firm.
Quite a few firms had guides to the law and helpful hints which can make it more likely that visitors will return to the site. Some of the more interesting guides that I found and promptly bookmarked were practical checklists covering topics such as buying property, selling property and moving house.
Guides which were worded as an advert for the firm (e.g. "We will...") were distracting and were often quite brief. Try and forget about advertising the firm when writing this and think about the end user. Would you come back to a website to read an advert?
Ideally, a firm would have a searchable and up-to-date database of properties which they are marketing. When the results appear there should be a small picture of each property, a brief description with some short facts and an option to expand this to see a much larger description and pictures of each room in the property if they are available. This is so that users with slower connections can access the site more easily. Further, the user should be given the option to download the full schedule of the property. This is often in Adobe Acrobat PDF form, since this enables existing printed material to be used without further formatting effort; however this can be slow on a normal connection and html versions of the full information are usually faster to load.
If a database is beyond the technical abilities of the firm, then a simple listing by category can be used instead. This should ideally be ordered by price and/or area.
Some firms had integrated their local property centre site into their own site and limited the properties available to their own. Others had used companies such as http://www.propertywindow.co.uk to store this information although this method needs further work. Very few firms have integrated the property listing page on the external site into their own, choosing to open instead in a new window which often looked different from the main firm site and did not contain a link to return to the firm.
Other "extras" provided were links to local sites, street maps showing the property, local information, articles and newsletters.
The sites with the highest score - 20 out of a possible 25 - were DW Georgeson, Lindsays and Primrose & Gordon. Firms with 19 marks were Smiths (under the name @home), Alastair Hart, Freelands and Paull & Williamsons.
For the full results (marks and comments) for the Top Twenty see the Mystery Tour at http://www.venables.co.uk/mystery.htm. Alternatively, if you would like a printed version, you will find a pdf version here or here (depending on whether you are viewing this directly on the web or on an internal intranet).
Kevin Crombie is a trainee solicitor with McGrigor Donald. He also runs the excellent site Scottish Law Online at http://www.scottishlaw.org.uk. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Law Society Conference "Nothing but the Net", 10th October, Glasgow, details from email@example.com.
Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill: Preparing for Implementation, 30th October, Edinburgh, from Privacy Laws & Business, details from firstname.lastname@example.org.
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