FindLaw – How To Leave and Save Your Reputation (and Money)


Today I have a guest blogger that shows you how to save thousands of dollars a year. Those savings take place if you made the mistake of hiring FindLaw as your law firm’s marketing company (or are contemplating doing so).

The company hit my radar big time, of course, when FindLaw decided it would be fun to rip-off my blog name. A deeper look discussed how FindLaw‘s “Blogs” were tainting not only its clients, but its professor-commentators and the profession of law as a whole.

Today’s guest is a former sales rep that left on less than amicable terms because he couldn’t make an absurd sales quota selling a product that was so heavily over-priced. Today he has his own company. The financial analysis of FindLaw‘s offerings now follows:
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By James Eichenberger
(co-owner of Swell Sites, a small, Minnesota web design company)

There’s been a lot of chatter, mostly disgust, around the ethics and quality of FindLaw‘s blogs as well as what I’ll considerately call a lack of creativity in naming them. I’m sure that this, like the linking scandal of 2008*, will evoke a variety of reactions from people involved in the legal marketing community. The great majority of lawyers will read these posts and feel self-assured in the fact that they don’t do business with FindLaw.

However, I’m afraid that current FindLaw customers will have one of two reactions. Some will look at it as an issue that is isolated to the blogosphere, and therefore doesn’t effect them and their products with FindLaw. The second group will realize that, whether or not they have their names posted on these blogs, this is yet another incarnation of FindLaw‘s questionable ethics, and it’s time to move.

So the question for current FindLaw customers (the group that is willing to acknowledge that their reputations are at stake) becomes how do you transition out of your current site and retain some of what you’ve already paid for? To that end, I’ve put together a group of questions that can jump-start the idea that you can indeed rescue your website from being held hostage and save thousands of dollars a year.

1. What am I really getting from the FindLaw Directory?

In reviewing traffic reports with your sales rep or account manager, it’s common to see the traffic delivered by FindLaw rolled into one big number. To be clear, there are two distinct elements that bring traffic to your website from FindLaw. First, your FindLaw profile, (which will typically include “pview” in the URL on your traffic report) and then any directory placements, which can run from $30 to upwards of $1,000 per month. [Ed. note, FindLaw links coded as “nofollow” to avoid giving link juice.]

It’s important to understand the average price per click that you are paying for traffic from FindLaw‘s top listings. In many cases, those coveted clicks from FindLaw cost well beyond $100 each. Tracking how many of these clicks actually convert to contacts by following the pages they access on your site is a very easy task with many common (and free) traffic programs. It’s troubling that FindLaw‘s traffic reporting is unable to follow these users and show conversion for this extremely expensive traffic.

2. Why am I paying monthly for my website?

There are really two answers to this question, depending on where you are in the life of your website with FindLaw. FindLaw websites are billed monthly, so the idea is that they take the cost of a website and prorate it over 12 monthly payments. So if you are in the first 12 months of your contract, it can be argued that you are still paying for the creation of your website.

Outside of those 12 months is where the math gets blurry. The monthly rates don’t change (significantly, anyway) based on the length of the contract, and what you get in terms of content or SEO doesn’t really either. Unless you are engaged with your website to the point of calling to ask what you are eligible for on a quarterly basis, your website just gets more and more expensive the longer you keep it with FindLaw. A former FindLaw General Manager said on his way out (before having moved back over to West) that the best way to get real value from a FindLaw website is to buy one and then cancel it as soon as possible.

3. What do you get beyond the initial development of your site?

That’s a question that FindLaw was trying to answer the entire 5 years that I worked there, and to my knowledge, they still haven’t figured it out. If anyone reading this can tell me of an experience where they received real value outside of the initial development of a new project I’d be interested in hearing about it. My guess is that most FindLaw customers will struggle to recall ever being proactively helped with their sites. They will tell you about “refreshes” which are additional content opportunities, but they are not easy to set up or completely clear on who is eligible.

The service is supposed to include additional search engine optimization (SEO) work, but at the time I left, they could also just have someone from the SEO team “audit” the site, and then determine whether or not they wanted to work on it. Same thing with content; unless you ask about the schedule, and then give specific direction on what content you’d like written, you likely will not get any. I’d liken the whole situation to trying to write step by step instructions on how to tie a shoe. Tying a shoe is easy, but when you try to tell someone else how to do it, it becomes infinitely more difficult than if you had done it yourself.

4. What elements of my FindLaw website do I actually own?

Here’s where there is actually some good news for FindLaw clients. There are three basic elements to your site:

Domain Name
This is the the name that brings up your site. Regardless of whether you owned that domain name before you purchased your site, it IS yours. At any time, for any reason, you can request that the ownership of your domain name be transferred to an account under your name. That gives you the ability to keep a site up and running should you decide to move away from FindLaw in the future. It also protects you from them holding on to it should you get into any type of a dispute over your contract term, cancellation date or total amount owed to the company. Your domain name is the online version of the front door to your law firm…your law firm should be the sole owner and controller of that domain name.

Content
The content on your site that was “custom written” is yours to keep. Because you directed the writing of this content, and it was written about your firm, it is yours. The content includes the meta data which is a large part of their search engine placement strategy. Transferring your content, as well as the 3 or 4 lines of coding aimed at search engine placement, onto a new server space will typically yield the same, if not better, results on Google.

Not ALL of the content belongs to you. If you have any FAQs, eNewsletters, Practice pages or practice centers, those are actually leased from FindLaw. Re-publishing that content on to a new hosting space is a violation of the contract and licensing of the content.

Design
The design is owned by FindLaw, but can be purchased for a fee defined as 4% of the annual value of the website. So if you were paying $12,000 a year for your site, buying the design and all images used would typically cost about $500. For that cost, you get a disc or a link to download all of the HTML files and graphics that made up your site. What you get isn’t going to be easily rebuilt by a novice, but someone with a general knowledge of websites could reconstruct it in 2 to 6 hours, depending on the complexity of the design and number of pages.

5. How much should I expect to pay for a website from FindLaw?

There are hundreds of variations, but a template, 8 page site tends to run about $500 a month on a 12 month contract. So at a minimum, the site is about $6,000.* The second year monthly fees typically drop to about $350, so a 24 month stint with FindLaw with an 8 page website will cost right around $10,000.

This price increasing over time with the relatively low service level in the second year and beyond, is really where the opportunity to save some real money comes in to play. If you already have a FindLaw website, there are several ways to get it set up on your own hosting space. Attorneys who are very web savvy may be able to handle the migration themselves. If you are not very comfortable with web development it may be far more efficient to hire someone to do it for you.

6. How much does it cost to get my FindLaw site rebuilt on another platform?

There is no perfect answer for this, but you should expect to pay somewhere in the range between $1,000 and $4,000 depending on the size and complexity of your website. Whether you are setting up a new website or working to get your FindLaw site migrated, here are a few things you’re going to want to make sure have been taken care of (in no particular order):

a. XML Sitemap Submission
b. Traffic Reporting that shows where people are coming from (a counter is not enough)
c. Domain validation through Google (available in their Webmaster Tools)
d. Meta Data on each page of your site that you would like included on Google
e. Keyword rich content that reflects the approach and feel, not just the practice area, of your law firm. 

I hope this information is helpful to people who are looking to gain a better understanding of exactly what they purchased from FindLaw, or looking to start up or advance their web marketing. I hope none of this came across as “axe-grinding” but at the same time, the reason that FindLaw can continue to get away with these other questionable projects is because there are thousands of lawyers who are paying thousands of dollars for what’s basically a trumped up web hosting plan.
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*Ed. notes:

1. For more info on the prior scandal with FindLaw selling links, see FindLaw gaming Google, and possibly scamming lawyer customers? Also see: Is the FindLaw Story Getting Distorted? where former FindLaw reps out the company’s disreputable policies in the comments.

2. This blog and my firm’s website were built by a small provider for a fraction of the cost of FindLaw’s services. The idea that lawyers would pay such ridiculously high rates to build a website, and then pay hundreds of dollars more per month to host it, is bizarre.

All the content on my two sites (for better or worse) comes off my keyboard.

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13 Responses Leave a comment

  • Wes Everett 2010.6.10 at 01:09 | Quote

    I spent about $50,000 with Findlaw before I recognized that there were significantly better options available (in my opinion). The major issues include the fact that Findlaw owns the sites, that the attorneys don’t get FTP access (you don’t really get access to your site) and that Findlaw is also marketing to your competitors. Seems that an industrious attorney might be able to bring a Breach of Fiduciary Duty action.

    Personally, I moved from them and started handling my own web development and have had much greater success for far less money. Handling your own web work takes some effort and is not for everyone, but in my opinion, hiring Findlaw is not a good business decision.

  • sad findlawyer 2010.8.27 at 15:52 | Quote

    So how do you get out of the contract with findlaw?

  • Eric T. 2010.8.29 at 18:04 | Quote

    So how do you get out of the contract with findlaw?

    I’m sure you can appreciate that I wouldn’t be giving legal advice in the comments of a blog.

    But this seems to be a straight contractual issue. And so, you would probably want to review yours and see if FindLaw is doing what they promised or if they breached it in any way.

  • sad findlawyer 2010.8.29 at 22:43 | Quote

    thanks, already on top of that. i appreciate it, and I also love your blog. it’s blogging at its best (not autoblogging crap).

  • Zachary Coyne 2010.11.17 at 14:28 | Quote

    I’m a web designer/developer and have been marketing to lawyers lately. I was seeking more information about all of the mediocre Findlaw websites I’ve been running into lately. I’m shocked at how much people are paying for these websites. Hire a professional developer to create a higher quality, customized website for around $1500 or pay $500 a MONTH indefinitely? The choice seems easy. Thanks for taking the time to write this article.

  • Roger Reno 2011.1.31 at 23:47 | Quote

    Thank you for the great article and advice about how to evaluate the possible value findlaw could deliver.

    I have always wondered why these websites were so expensive, yet I have also been drawn to try it myself until I heard about how fast findlaw turns over customers and was unable to keep their largest customer in Miami.

    I must say that I was first shocked to read that anyone would pay for an advertising product at $100 per click, then even more shocked to learn that findlaw websites are even more expensive on a per click basis.

    If the findlaw website’s are not cost effective, nor is their directory advertising, why should I talk to my local rep anymore?

  • Robert Dunne 2011.2.10 at 22:28 | Quote

    I consulted James after reading this article and he helped me through the process to redevelop my website. Excellent service at a very reasonable price. I highly recommend James and Swell Sites.

  • Justin Ziegler 2011.8.1 at 16:36 | Quote

    Eric,

    I hope you are doing well. In response to your comment at the end of #1 above:

    “[Ed. note, FindLaw links coded as "nofollow" to avoid giving link juice.]”

    Are you certain the Findlaw links are coded as “nofollow?” I looked at the source code of some Findlaw directory pages, and I don’t see “nofollow.”

    I just added a blog post (http://blog.justinziegler.net/3-reasons-why-findlaw-website-hosting-is-overpriced)
    to my blog which confirms much of what you say based on my experience with Findlaw. Take care.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2011.8.1 at 16:49 | Quote

    Are you certain the Findlaw links are coded as “nofollow?” I looked at the source code of some Findlaw directory pages, and I don’t see “nofollow.”

    There are only two links to FindLaw and both are coded nofollow. There are other links back to my own blog regarding bits I have written about the company that, obviously, don’t need that bit of coding.

  • Yale 2011.8.29 at 17:51 | Quote

    I am a new solo practitioner who stupidly hooked up with Findlaw. I am paying them $411.12 per month and getting virtually no paying clients for the year I have been with them.

    Please advise me how to cancel or void my two year contract with them with the least negative fallout. Can I keep my website alive if I own the host and domain name and passwords? HELP PLEASE!

    Yale

  • Nat 2011.10.20 at 07:14 | Quote

    Alas I keep coming back to this post because every time I get a new local attorney as a client I forward this post to them. It’s a great resource of information. I can’t thank you enough for getting the word out on this “advertising” and “directory listing” company.

    Sometimes I feel like a Psychologist trying to help local attorneys break the co-dependent relationship they have with Find Law.

    I have read their contract many times and just got to read the new one that one of my attorneys received 2 weeks ago. He’s panicked to leave because he feels it will adversely effect his rankings.

    I looked at him and said, “what rankings?”

    He’s a personal injury attorney but unless you Google his town with Personal injury attorney he is found no where else on the web or in any of the other surrounding towns or close proximity cities.

    I’ve done other work for him e.g. optimizing his Google Places account, video marketing, and we’re about to develop an ongoing campaign to reconnect with all the clients he has done work. Unfortunately he is like most small businesses who don’t stay in touch with clients on a regular basis because they are too busy just trying to run their practice. Once the campaign is running I anticipate that he will have a significant increase in his practice and maybe forget a little bit about the wasted money with Find Law.

    In my opinion, FindLaw has the ability to confuse the attorney with such a massive amount of tech speak and reports that they feel overwhelmed and can’t do all this “internet” stuff themselves. This particular attorney wanted to hire me just to deal with FindLaw and all their reports. He had no idea what they meant. Seems crazy but true.

    Look, getting a site to rank on the search engines for localized specific search terms is not a Sisyphean task. It takes software, research, time, and work. I think that’s why attorneys sign up by the boat load to have FindLaw do this for them. Unfortunately I also believe that they’re so excited to have a complete done-for-you web presence they don’t do their own due diligence, don’t fully read the fine print in the contract, and when 2 years is up on a 3 year contract and they’ve received no business they wake up to the bad deal they’ve made. At that point they either suck the channel water and pay for another 12 months or try and break the contract. Important to also note if you’re one of the lucky ones and your time in the barrel is almost up. FindLaw requires 90 days notice before they will allow you to get out and if you elect not to renew a contract and go month to month they will jack your monthly up to the prevailing higher rates. Ouch, ouch, and more ouch.

    I’m here to say that you can break free at least form a mental standpoint. I’ll leave the contract parsing to you and your Brethren.

    Once you have severed the chains there are plenty of good local SEO people who can help you with a web design, site architecture, keyword research, landing pages, search engine marketing, etc.

    Ok, ok I’ll get off my stump.

    Thanks again Erik for the blog and a special thanks to James for his ideas and inspiration.

    Nat Griggs
    Marketing Consultant
    http://www.LarMediaGroup.com
    Westbrook, CT

  • Susan Grammer 2012.1.2 at 04:18 | Quote

    I pay Find Law over $1500.00 per month.

    If I were to try to get away from FindLaw, how would I do it.

    Who should I contact to construct a new website?

    How do I make certain that when customer’s go on the internet and ask for attorneys in my area for the kinds of services I provide, that I will show up on the first page?

    Please help me, I cannot afford to keep making these payments.

    Also phone book advertising is equally as expensive per book.

    Thank you

    Susan Grammer
    sfglaw1@aol.com

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.1.2 at 14:31 | Quote

    If I were to try to get away from FindLaw, how would I do it.

    I hope you weren’t expecting me to give legal advice in the comment section of a blog.

    How do I make certain that when customer’s go on the internet and ask for attorneys in my area for the kinds of services I provide, that I will show up on the first page?

    When you learn it, you can make millions. Of course, there are many, many others out there all claiming to have already learned it. And if you think about it for a heartbeat, you will realize that they can’t all get all of their clients to page one of Google.

    So here is a tip: Create great content. Then people will link to you. Then people will find you.

Comments are closed.


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