Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
September/October 2003, by Delia Venables

The Role of Specialised Websites
by Lorraine Chapman, Field Fisher Waterhouse

Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) is a full service commercial law firm based in the City of London. The firm has 80 partners, 180 other lawyers and 280 support staff and is rated in over 40 areas of expertise in the leading legal directories. We have chosen to operate several discrete niche website services through separate brands for both strategic and practical reasons.

Strategy

Our strategy is to appeal to certain niche markets by offering a tailored approach. The thinking behind this is that if you want to buy some jewellery, for example, you wouldn't go to a supermarket, you would go to a jewellers. The perception is that by going to a shop that specialises in the product you are looking for, you will encounter better quality merchandise and staff who will understand your needs more fully. We use a similar approach for the marketing of certain areas of our firm's commercial practices. By offering specialist branded websites for certain practices, such as travel and sports, there is a better chance of appealing to existing and potential clients in these specialist sectors.

Practicality

There are also a number of practical reasons for this approach. For certain practice areas we have an abundance of material which we would like to make available online for clients and potential clients as a value-added service. Placing huge amounts of information on our main website could result in the site appearing noticeably unbalanced. In addition, the information can end up being hidden away as there are so many areas on the site. Displaying this material on a separate website gives it greater prominence and makes it more readily accessible.

All our specialist sites contain free legal briefing papers and newsletters for users to download, in addition to information on FFW's work, experience and key lawyer contacts:

We have used a number of styles to appeal to the different needs and expectations of various markets. For example, our public sector specialist site has a simple understated design with a dash of blue and an image of Big Ben. The main concerns for visitors to the site are that it looks professional and contains lots of information which is quick and easy to locate. By contrast, our site dedicated to the sports industry is much more colourful with animated images and sports news on its home page. The site provides useful sector news to sports clients in a format which is appealing to the sports business sector.

Marketing and Additional Services

From a marketing point of view it is easier to market a mini-brand in a specialised sector. We can also promote specialist sites individually on printed material and on internet search engines. Providing information online is also a fast, convenient and extremely cost-effective way of promoting our firm to individual sectors.

We are looking into developing password protected areas of these specialist sites for privileged client users and also paying subscribers. For example, our travel sector website not only offers free downloadable briefing papers but also the opportunity to subscribe to an online service, whereby users pay a set yearly fee for online access to legal information on a range of topics which is updated as and when any changes in the law occur.

Practical Considerations

Keeping a number of specialist websites up-to-date, in addition to the firm's main website, can be a burden on the Marketing and IT Departments of a firm if they are not set up in a way that ensures maximum efficiency. The amount of administration involved in this could potentially lead to a number of marketing and IT staff undertaking this role.

That is why we have implemented a user-friendly content management system which allows non-technical staff, such as secretaries, to update information on the specialist websites as and when necessary. These changes go into a holding area in the system and are then checked by a member of the marketing department to ensure consistency and quality before being loaded onto the live web site. The advantage of this approach is that updates can be made easily and quickly and the work involved in updating the sites is not duplicated by having to be passed through several departments and stages before it can be completed. We have developed much of the site in-house, using the content management system, with additional assistance from our web site developer Crossbow Media (www.crossbowmedia.com).

Measuring success

When it comes to measuring the success of these specialist sites it is not just a matter of counting the number of hits or page impressions. In a specialised sector, a relatively small number of page impressions can be regarded as successful if they come from clients and potential clients within the target market, whereas the same number of page impressions for a more general site would be considered poor.

It is useful to look at the information which is downloaded most and this data can then be fed back to partners to take into consideration when looking at how to market and develop their own practices.

Lorraine Chapman is E-Marketing Manager at Field Fisher Waterhouse. Email lmc@ffwlaw.com.

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