You are less connected to the net than a Japanese cow. We think of the web as being the means by which emails are checked, sat at a desk. That is the first generation of the Internet. Your BlackBerryTM is in the second generation, the mobile Internet. The cow is in the third generation, the Internet of things. She has a microchip with a unique IP address that tells the farmer her location at any time. In having a personal web address she is more connected to the net than most counsel.
Chambers on the web
Most sets pay too much for a poor service. Our websites need to be more dynamic, interactive and intuitive. They should be updated daily with chambers’ news and comment. If a lay or professional client is looking for a family practitioner and he types “family barrister” into GoogleTM, it assists you if your site has relevant content: eg offers of lectures, academic pieces, links to relevant law reports. There is no need to employ someone to tend constantly to your site. Use RSS (really simple syndication) feeds: in effect, windows onto other trusted sites such as The Times law section, BBC World News and specialist Bar associations. The cost of a bespoke website will vary widely, but a cheaper option is to find a “white-label” site that can be rebranded to appear bespoke.
The user (person searching the net) should be able to navigate easily and have an instant, visible input into the site. Maps are obvious and easy to install, allowing the user to plot a route from their starting point to chambers (unless you are senior prosecution counsel). Add a calendar of professional events, forthcoming lectures and recruitment dates. At the most innovative—or gimmicky, be careful—end of the range you could have a real-time poll or questionnaire for the user to participate in. You should have a short, serious question to which you provide a limited number of answers. When the user ticks a box to answer, the polling results are illustrated in graph form.
The site should have an unfussy, functional form. Flashy pre-ambles and graphics-driven introductory pages are clumsy, and the evidence suggests they do not help the search engines to find you. The one drawback to having a wealth of relevant content is that the site becomes unwieldy. You must have a search function, where a user can abandon your structure and go to the relevant content. Also, have a page which sketches the skeleton or plan for the site.
Personal web profile
Barristers can also benefit from a personal website. Yours does not have to be expensive, just relevant and professional looking. At present you may be a long way down the list produced by a search engine, and then when your name is displayed it is with a list of others, some more senior or better looking in a professional sense. You need a domain name that contains your name, eg johnbloggs.co.uk, or even better, describes your preferred specialism.
It is a myth that having a .com is better than having a .co.uk. The search engines now work on the basis of real geography, so anything with the UK in the suffix helps for the vast majority of barristers. White-label or bespoke, these personal sites will be cheaper than those required for a set of chambers for obvious reasons: simpler content and structure.
Advertising your specialism
The move towards personal online marketing has begun, and the Bar Council already requires you to give an individual notice that you are holding yourself out for public access work. There are clear benefits in the advertising of increased specialism. Take a group of six immigration practitioners all at the same set. The most junior is willing to travel the breadth of the UK, the most senior stresses her appellate work, those in between each have a different geographical focus. Each barrister concentrates his or her effort, someone searching the web gets more precise information, counsel refer work to each other and to solicitors. The clerks get their cut in the usual way.
The new net directory
Why not add a link from your website to the new net directory—the new release of web addresses ending with the .tel suffix. You will not find traditional websites hosted at these domains. These are locations on the web that store basic contact information. The new sites work on a personal and commercial level, both of which may assist the Bar.
If I meet a solicitor at a book launch, rather than hand over a dog-eared business card, or scrabble around to input a mobile number into my phone, I can say my details are at lodge.tel. Noting my name, the person has access to my contact details. The obvious advantage is that if I change mobile phone or email, or chambers moves, then I do not have the problem of a business card being out of date. I
update my details once on lodge.tel, everyone who has ever noted that this is where to find me can still find me.
The drawback is that this public display can be a spammer’s paradise. The remedy is to use the privacy functions carefully*, and have the filter of a generic (eg firstname.lastname@example.org) or web-based email (eg email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
As for the business application: your chambers should buy its dot tel address. This helps with search engine optimisation for the existing site, and will assist in the event of an unexpected move or change of name, new head of chambers or re-branding.
In the earlier sunrise period the most basic registration of a dot tel cost several hundred pounds, now you can do it yourself very much cheaper at any domain registration site*, or for £200 have a fully managed listing for four years. Consider also the professional networking site www.linkedin.com, but you might prefer to pay a small fee for a dot tel rather than become a hostage to a service that is free now but may charge later.
Don’t get lost on the net
It is not a human trying to make sense of this vast messy marketplace of information, it is the automated Googlebot. It knows nothing of the reputation of individual barristers or sets, it does not care for our habits and codes. Googlebot is crawling the net looking for relevant, logically structured content. Attract its attention and the consumer will find you.
Even if people are aware of your name and are looking for it, make sure you sign post it on the net. Why risk the client finding an equally well-known name who has embraced the net? For the rest of us, most of the time, new sources of instruction are a benefit. It is not difficult to make your existence and experience more readily apparent to the world.
The digital age is upon us, don’t be left out to pasture.
HD Lodge is a barrister. *Detailed references, technical explanations, example sites and links can be found at www.NewLawModel.com or email email@example.com